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Same-sex attraction: a therapist’s view

April 19th, 2011

by Philip Sutton

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.

Keep reading.

 

 

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  1. April 19th, 2011 at 19:46 | #1

    Don’t you think maybe these people of which you speak are unhappy because of an intolerant and condemning culture? I mean, come one. Back in the day left-handed children were miserable because their teachers would beat their hands with a ruler until they learned to write with their right hands. So sure, they were miserable, but that didn’t make being left-handed “bad” or “wrong.”

    Times change. And condemning homosexuality is going the way of thinking left-handed folks were in league with the devil.

  2. Bob Barnes
    April 20th, 2011 at 05:26 | #2

    Seriously, who are the peers, that are peer-reviewing NARTH studies? Thus far, not one of NARTH’s studies show any adherence to the standards of research and methodology.

    And as Emma points out, it’s the unwanted and unwarranted stigma that creates the harmful and unproductive environment to produce such loathing in young gays and lesbians.

  3. April 20th, 2011 at 07:49 | #3

    NARTH? Really? That’s a bit like relying on the KKK for information about blacks.

  4. Anonygrl
    April 20th, 2011 at 08:23 | #4

    Yes Emma. You are precisely correct.

    Additionally, the APA (American Psychological Association) has quite a bit to say about reparative therapy, and none of it good.

    http://www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/resources/therapeutic-response.pdf

  5. April 20th, 2011 at 09:27 | #5

    @Emma Left-handedness is morally neutral. Sexuality is not.
    Homophiles are unhappy because they know intrinsically that homosexual behavior is wrong.

  6. April 20th, 2011 at 11:34 | #6

    Glenn E. Chatfield :
    @Emma Left-handedness is morally neutral. Sexuality is not.
    Homophiles are unhappy because they know intrinsically that homosexual behavior is wrong.

    Yes, being a lefty is indisputably morally neutral now. But back when kids were getting smacked upside the head for writing with the wrong hand, back when people saw left-handedness as being associated with Satan, it was clearly not morally neutral. And yet people evolved, became more open minded, outgrew certain dogmatic religious views. Just as today we are evolving about issues of sexuality.

  7. Heidi
    April 20th, 2011 at 11:47 | #7

    Oh Glenn, you’re so funny. You seriously crack me up. Here’s a “homophile” (actually bisexual) who is quite happy and knows that homosexual behavior within a committed relationship is perfectly right.

  8. April 20th, 2011 at 12:56 | #8

    @Emma People’s beliefs about superstition never altered that fact that they were wrong. Believing superstitions about left-handedness was foolishness and errant.

    This is not comparable with sexual behavior, which has a definite morality. The objective truth is that homosexual behavior is against human biology, against the design of human sexuality, harmful medically and psychologically – all of which demonstrate the truth that it is a wrong behavior. Sexuality is not relegated to just the religious realm.

  9. April 20th, 2011 at 12:57 | #9

    @Heidi You deceive yourself.

  10. Paul Mc
    April 20th, 2011 at 14:41 | #10

    Glenn, I’m afraid you are very misled regarding sexuality. Being gay is a state of being not a behaviour. It only becomes a behaviour once you, well, behave that way. See Dr Sutton statements that many people come to him without having ‘behaved’. Homosexuality has no moral dimension, it just ‘is’. All ‘behaviours’ are moral to a greater or lesser extent.
    Homosexuality is seen in nature and is of nature, it is non-patholigical in humans and is not a diagnosable condition according to all manuals, WHO, APA, even the Chinese medical establishment – they all state that being gay is not harmful psychologically. It is only harmful medically if certain behaviours are indulged – it is no different from heterosexuality in that regard.

    Glenn, you are deceived. The science and objectivity and truth are not on your side at all.

  11. April 20th, 2011 at 17:53 | #11

    @Paul Mc What we see in animals in nature does not define human beings. Even if a person is oriented to homosexuality, he never, ever has to act on it. I have yet to have a debate with a celibate homophile who is seeking SSM and “hate speech” laws, etc. I am not the one deceived. If the state of being homosexual, without behaving homosexually, isn’t harmful, then why do they then have a problem with it? Because they know homosexuality is wrong.

  12. Chairm
    April 21st, 2011 at 00:17 | #12

    The original blogpost is about the views of Dr Phillip Sutton. The pro-homo commentators might try to address his remarks.

  13. April 21st, 2011 at 06:53 | #13

    Glenn E. Chatfield :
    @Heidi You deceive yourself.

    How arrogant you are, Glenn, to presume to know someone better than she knows herself.

  14. Bob Barnes
    April 21st, 2011 at 10:52 | #14

    Glen, could you please give citations to what you claim are facts, instead of insisting these facts exist? We’d like to know the source since that we can’t seem to verify them?

  15. April 21st, 2011 at 17:11 | #15

    @Bob Barnes What facts are you looking for?

  16. Sean
    April 21st, 2011 at 20:08 | #16

    “Left-handedness is morally neutral. Sexuality is not.”

    How can there be a moral dimension to something you can’t control? Sexual orientation, a preference for same-sex romance and sex, isn’t chosen or learned. It is therefore uncontrolled. It just happens.

  17. Sean
    April 21st, 2011 at 20:14 | #17

    What’s immoral is to publish articles implying that homosexuality needs a “cure” and can be “fixed.” That’s immorality. Can you imagine a website dedicated to helping Christians get over unwanted religious feelings through therapy?

  18. Chairm
    April 21st, 2011 at 20:58 | #18

    Emma and Heidi and Rob and Paul and Bob, and Anonygirl, apart from your obvious bias derived from your personal and subjective feelings, please give citations for all that you have claimed are facts,instead of merely insistimg these are facts.

    We’d like to know your sources … apart from subjective and self-referential criteria … since you object to points made by Glenn.

    State the points Glenn made and which you would dispute.

    1. Your claimed facts.
    2. Sources for objective criteria for your claimed facts.
    3. Your list of disputed points made by Glenn.

    Tidy up your comments and be specific. Glenn migght then follow the examples you provide. He has already made reasonable remarks but your objections are vaguely stated … and supplemented by your own unsourced assertions. Objective criteria might provide a clarity you have yet to provide in your comments and objections.

    Meanwhile why do your ccomments turn away from the original blogpost? Deal with its content, too.

  19. April 22nd, 2011 at 09:49 | #19

    @Sean You assert that desires – orientation – cannot be controlled. That is not proven by fact. The facts from studies after studies demonstrate that the majority of homophiles were indeed led into that behavior and that it is chosen.

    Human sexuality is a moral dimension in and of itself. That is the point. Yet homosexualists continue bringing out the old canard about left-handedness being similar. There is absolutely no similarity.

    It is not immoral to say that homosexuality can be “cured” – i.e. that homosexuality is something one can learn to walk away from. It is 100% true. Even in Scripture Paul says that is what some of them “were” – past tense.

    Belief in God is not immoral. And everyone, including you, have some sort of “religious” feelings.

  20. April 22nd, 2011 at 13:11 | #20

    “The facts from studies after studies demonstrate that the majority of homophiles were indeed led into that behavior and that it is chosen.”

    Links, links, links, please.

  21. Bob Barnes
    April 22nd, 2011 at 15:27 | #21

    Glenn E. Chatfield :
    @Sean You assert that desires – orientation – cannot be controlled. That is not proven by fact. The facts from studies after studies demonstrate that the majority of homophiles were indeed led into that behavior and that it is chosen.
    Human sexuality is a moral dimension in and of itself. That is the point. Yet homosexualists continue bringing out the old canard about left-handedness being similar. There is absolutely no similarity.
    It is not immoral to say that homosexuality can be “cured” – i.e. that homosexuality is something one can learn to walk away from. It is 100% true. Even in Scripture Paul says that is what some of them “were” – past tense.
    Belief in God is not immoral. And everyone, including you, have some sort of “religious” feelings.

    See, this is where we’d like to see Glenn’s citations.

    Please provide the name of the studies that you refer to when you say, ” The facts from studies after studies demonstrate that the majority of homophiles were indeed led into that behavior and that it is chosen.”

  22. April 23rd, 2011 at 08:24 | #22

    @Bob Barnes and @ Bob Tisinai. I have read many studies over the years demonstrating conclusively what I reported. I have not kept the articles, nor will I take the time to search the internet to find such articles. If you do not believe what I report then so be it. What you want is justification for an unnatural and perverse behavior, and if I don’t have the ready information at hand, then you get your justification. The one ready reference I have at hand is what God says about it.

    As far as people walking away from homosexuality, I can give you the direct evidence of a friend who walked away from it. Read Michael’s testimony in the comment string on this article:
    http://watchmansbagpipes.blogspot.com/2011/02/you-cant-really-live-in-sin-as.html

  23. Bob Barnes
    April 23rd, 2011 at 11:26 | #23

    Glenn E. Chatfield :
    @Bob Barnes and @ Bob Tisinai. I have read many studies over the years demonstrating conclusively what I reported. I have not kept the articles, nor will I take the time to search the internet to find such articles. If you do not believe what I report then so be it. What you want is justification for an unnatural and perverse behavior, and if I don’t have the ready information at hand, then you get your justification. The one ready reference I have at hand is what God says about it.

    Glenn, I can tell you right now, there are no studies that conclude that Homosexuality is a choice, NONE. Your “I’ve read it, can’t remember the name of it, can’t be bothered to find it” stance kind of proves you are pushing opinion as fact.
    As far as people walking away from homosexuality, I can give you the direct evidence of a friend who walked away from it. Read Michael’s testimony in the comment string on this article:
    http://watchmansbagpipes.blogspot.com/2011/02/you-cant-really-live-in-sin-as.html

  24. Bob Barnes
    April 23rd, 2011 at 13:58 | #24

    That should be:

    Glenn, I can tell you right now, there are no studies that conclude that Homosexuality is a choice, NONE. Your “I’ve read it, can’t remember the name of it, can’t be bothered to find it” stance kind of proves you are pushing opinion as fact.

  25. April 23rd, 2011 at 15:11 | #25

    @Bob Barnes Just because I don’t have the ready references does not make me making things up. How can you say there are NO studies that say it is a choice? Have you seen every study? Now you are the one making things up.

  26. April 23rd, 2011 at 15:17 | #26

    @Bob Barnes Oh, and notice our bait and switch. I said for the majority of homophiles were led into the behavior – i.e. chosen. Your statement is that no studies conclude that homosexuality is a choice. I submit that for the majority it IS a choice, while the orientation for some may not have been chosen due to genetic defect of some sort. But behavior is ALWAYS a choice.

  27. bman
    April 23rd, 2011 at 15:54 | #27

    Sean :
    How can there be a moral dimension to something you can’t control? Sexual orientation, a preference for same-sex romance and sex, isn’t chosen or learned. It is therefore uncontrolled. It just happens.

    There is a moral dimension because sin is “a law” in our nature that works in us to turn us away from God’s law.

    The apostle Paul described “the law of sin” this way:

    I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.

    For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. (cf. Romans 7:21-25)

    There is, then, this “other law” in man that Paul calls “the law of sin which is in my members” that wars against the law of God.

    Although its produced in Paul against his conscious choice, and though it “just happens” its still “sin” because it wars against the law of God.

    We all feel things spontaneously that we do not choose to feel, but that does not mean its moral to accept or comply with those feelings.

  28. Sean
    April 23rd, 2011 at 17:53 | #28

    “We all feel things spontaneously that we do not choose to feel, but that does not mean its moral to accept or comply with those feelings.”

    Accept or comply with feelings? What the heck does that mean? You either feel something or you don’t. There’s no accepting or complying involved.

  29. Ruth
    April 23rd, 2011 at 18:24 | #29

    @Sean
    “I’m so mad I could just kill that person!” is the expression of a feeling.
    If our morality is based in the current Me-ocracy, we might be just fine with that feeling, and even choose to act upon it.
    If we submit our will to God’s will, we recognize that our feeling is probably in need of a correction, and we will not act upon it.

  30. Sean
    April 23rd, 2011 at 20:59 | #30

    Ruth, anger is a legitimate emotion. It’s quite ok to be so mad at someone that you want to kill him. Just so you don’t. There’s nothing selfish about feelings; they just are. No need to judge them. Actions? Of course, actions carry accountability, but feelings? Not so much.

  31. Chairm
    April 24th, 2011 at 19:21 | #31

    The prohomo commentaters here have not played by their own self imposed rules for claiming facts.

    Meanwhile the blogpost topc is the profressional view of Dr Phillip Sutton. The same commenters might turn their attention to that topic.

  32. Ruth
    April 24th, 2011 at 21:41 | #32

    @Sean
    In the example I gave, what bman describes as accepting a feeling, and complying with it, would lead to murder.
    God has revealed to us that sin leads to death.
    When you advocate sin, you advocate death.
    You could do better.

  33. Bob Barnes
    April 25th, 2011 at 14:13 | #33

    Chairm, let’s face it, both you and Glenn both tell us about all of these studies that we know don’t exist. I can’t be held accountable for Glenn’s “can’t be bothered to google them” studies, how on earth do you want me to prove they don’t exist other than having the one who says they do, prove it?

  34. Bob Barnes
    April 25th, 2011 at 14:15 | #34

    And yes, Chairm, I am waiting to hear who peer-reviews the NARTH studies?

  35. Ruth
    April 25th, 2011 at 18:19 | #35

    @Bob Barnes
    I don’t understand why it matters whether or not someone has a predisposition towards a sinful activity.
    There may be a genetic link to alcoholism. So what?
    A guy who chases his married secretary is “wired” for the activity. So what?
    They might even be proud of their proclivities; they might boast about them.
    Others aren’t happy merely to step out of a closet.
    They also want to exit the adjoining prison cell.
    They deserve our support.

  36. Chairm
    April 27th, 2011 at 21:28 | #36

    Bob and Bob, it is okay that you wont live up to your own stated standards for claiming your facts. Your self appointed entitlement is so very special, obviously.

    Meanwhile you turn away from the views of Dr Phillip Sutton. Your trollish behavior here is as special as your cowardly sense of entitlement.

  37. Sean
    April 28th, 2011 at 16:20 | #37

    Yikes! Dr. Sutton wrote an article entitled:

    “Homosexuality is not innate, immutable or without significant risk to medical, psychological and relational health.”

    I wonder if he’s a medical doctor, and if so, has his license to practice been revolked yet?! He is at odds with every reputable (that is, non-religion based) medical organization in the world.

  38. April 29th, 2011 at 15:29 | #38

    @Sean The only medical people who disagree with the FACT of significant medical risk are those pushing the homosexual agenda. Common sense even dictates that homosexual behavior, especially between males, would necessarily have risks aside from the increased incidence of HIV (Which the CDC states – are they ‘religion-based’?)

  39. Sean
    April 30th, 2011 at 06:20 | #39

    You’re talking about careless sexual behavior, not sexual orientation. Anyone who is sexually careless risks getting an ailment, even a fatal one, from risky sex.

    Lesbians have the lowest incidence of sexually transmitted diseases. Aren’t they homosexuals?

    Straight couples have careless sex and end up catching a disease, and/or destroying a human life they don’t want. Should we ban straight sex? Gay couples don’t kill womb babies!

  40. April 30th, 2011 at 14:51 | #40

    @Sean I’m not saying the medical reason is the reason to ban SSM – I’m just countering your claim that their is no medical harm.

  41. Sean
    May 2nd, 2011 at 17:01 | #41

    There is no medical harm in being homosexual. There can be significant medical harm in practicing unsafe sex. This applies equally to homosexuals and heterosexuals. In fact, legal same-sex marriage might reduce the number of partners a person might have, contributing to fewer health concerns. So it’s odd that you’re willing to bring up health issues and use them against, instead of for, legal same-sex marriage.

  42. May 3rd, 2011 at 06:51 | #42

    @Sean The evidence is clear that monogamous homosexual couples are rare. Even in committed relationships, they are usually open relationships. Especially with male homophiles, their sexual practices are NEVER safe medically. To deny this is to deny the truth, which you usually do anyway.

  43. Chairm
    May 3rd, 2011 at 12:52 | #43

    According to the stated arguments of SSMers, SSM would not be a sexual type of relationship in the eyes if the law governing SSM. They overstretch this nition to cover the union of husband and wife which currently is a sexual type of relationship at law.

    SSMers complain that at law marriage is currently a relationship limited by heterosexual orientation and so they are at odds with their insistence that currently marriage is not a sexual type of relationship at law.

    More,their proposed remedy is to remake the law for the sake of the homosexual type of relationship which they insist would render SSM/marriage not a sexual type of relationship at law.

    Their complaint is fraudulent. Their proposed remedy is fraudulent. Their homosexual emphasis would make marriage eman less;and ironically make the SSM idea mean less than their rhetorical homosexual emphasis has promised.

    Except that their proposed remedy is to quash open dissent and opposition to the political supremacy asserted on behalf of gay identity.

  44. Sean
    May 3rd, 2011 at 18:37 | #44

    “The evidence is clear that monogamous homosexual couples are rare. Even in committed relationships, they are usually open relationships. Especially with male homophiles, their sexual practices are NEVER safe medically. To deny this is to deny the truth, which you usually do anyway.”

    Well, until there are equal marriage rights, it would be hard to make any claims about anybody’s committed relationships. You can’t compare apples to oranges.

    What on earth makes you say something as outlandish as gay men never practice safe sex? But even if that were true, are you open to same-sex marriage to those highly faithful, highly disease-averse lesbians?

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