Same-sex attraction: a therapist’s view
Not everyone attracted to the same sex is happy about it. What help is there for those who want to change?
We hear a lot from people who claim they are happy with their homosexual or lesbian orientation and want social recognition for it. But what of people who are unhappy with their attraction to others of the same sex? What help is available and on what scientific and ethical grounds is it based? We asked Phillip Sutton, PhD, a licensed psychologist, therapist and counselor based in Indiana and Michigan in the US. Dr Sutton is also Editor of the Journal of Human Sexuality, a peer-reviewed scholarly publication of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH)
In the first part of a two-part email interview Dr Sutton describes his experience and methods of serving people with these issues.
MercatorNet: You have been providing professional care to a variety of people for over 30 years. Have you dealt with many homosexual persons of either sex in that time, and what were they looking for from you?
Dr Sutton: My first introduction to serving persons with unwanted homosexuality same-sex attractions or behaviors (SSA) as a mental health professional occurred while teaching in an MA in Counseling Program, 11 years before beginning such service. I have written about my initiation into this work elsewhere. In 2000, I served my first client who wanted help to resolve or better manage unwanted same-sex attractions. While some therapists do specialize in serving such clients, my overall caseload remains diversified, with clients ranging from children to retirement age, and married couples and families in the mix.
I’ve served only a handful of women who reported unwanted SSA as either the primary or a co-occurring issue of therapy. I do not tend to think of my clients in terms of the label unwanted SSA or not, so at best could only make an educated guess at the number of male clients I’ve seen over the past 11 years. In the past 12 months, for example, I have had contact at least once with at least 25 different persons for whom unwanted SSA was an issue. It is not uncommon for some clients to come for only one or several sessions and not continue. In a “busy” week, Christmas, eight of my weekly clients were persons who have unwanted SSA, and they now represent perhaps a quarter to a third of my overall caseload.
I hesitate to generalize too much about what brings my clients to therapy. The challenge in serving clients with any presenting issue — especially unwanted SSA — is to focus too much on the diagnosis and thus fail to truly meet and serve the (entire) person who has courageously chosen to meet with me. Given my referral networks, most of my clients (for all issues) are practicing Christians, and a desire to be faithful to living how they believe God wants them to, as well as to use the resources of their faith to achieve this goal, are common underlying motivations. I do serve persons who report that they do not practice religious faith or find it important. I try to understand, value and serve clients as they come to me.
In terms of unwanted SSA, many of the men, whether single or married, commonly seek help stopping habits of SS pornography or masturbation. Some of the men and all of the women also come seeking help with emotionally (co-) dependent relationships. A few have had or still struggle with actual physical encounters with others, but most of my clients have not. Some of my clients simply experience attractions which they have not acted upon. Others truly have an anxiety disorder (i.e., are obsessive or scrupulous about same-sex issues, but have had no true desire or experience of ever doing so.) Co-occurring issues (anxiety, depression, substance and other self-defeating behavior habits) likewise either are a secondary and sometimes the primary issue.
Do you practice “reparative therapy” with such clients? What does the term mean? Are there alternative approaches? What is yours?
The simple answer is “No.” Reparative therapy technically is an approach to providing psychological care for unwanted SSA which is strongly influenced by the ideas and techniques of the psychoanalytic and other psychodynamic schools of therapy. Joseph Nicolosi is perhaps the best known therapist practicing and teaching this approach at the present time.