Thursday, May 24, 2012

Dr. Spitzer’s “Fixer Upper” Turns into a House of Tumbling Cards

In a letter to the very journal that published his poorly conceived 2001 survey, Robert Spitzer, M.D., deemed the father of modern psychiatry, last week apologized to “the gay community.” Calling his study “fatally flawed,” Spitzer apologized to “any gay person who wasted time and energy undergoing some form of reparative therapy because they believed that I had proven that reparative therapy works.” http://www.New York Times, 5/18/12

Reparative Therapy:  Repair What?

His study supported use of reparative therapy, so-called conversion or ex-gay therapy, to “cure” people of their homosexuality. The World Health Organization Report, released on May 16th, calls this type of therapy that uses behavior modification so homosexuals can act straight, “a serious threat to the health and well-being – even lives- of affected people." This echoes the American Psychological Association’s declaration in 2009 that mental health professionals should not tell gay clients they can become straight through reparative therapy. According to a July 25, 2011 poll, the Human Rights Campaign found that 69% believe such practices are ineffective. Yet, these pray-away-camps proliferate in such states as Florida while the California State Legislature debates a bill to ban the therapy as dangerous.

No one, it seems, has studied the long-term effects of reparative therapy, and therein lies the problem and the concept of Spitzer’s study. Using information from extensive telephone interviews Spitzer conducted and questionnaires of 200 gays from centers such as Exodus International and NARTH (National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality), men and women were asked about their sexual urges, feelings and behaviors before and after therapy. But the study didn’t test any particular therapy and the findings were all based on what people remembered, in some cases, many years before. It wasn’t scientific enough with no solid evidence that change is permanent.


Dr. Spitzer, now 80, and suffering from Parkinson’s Disease, was considered a giant in the field of psychiatry. He was instrumental in declassifying homosexuality as a mental disorder in the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual in 1973. Sexual reorientation is based on Freud’s idea that people are born bisexual and can move along a continuum from one end to the other. Affiliated with Columbia University, Spitzer was later counselled against conducting reparative studies. Yet, was he unfairly criticized?

Enemies and Allies

Proponents of ex-gay therapy( religious and social conservatives) used aspects of his study for their political agenda holding it up as proof that gay people could successfully become straight if they motivated to do so. Was Spitzer being “framed?” and becoming a scapegoat for the camps that espouse self-hatred?

Allies of Spitzer such as psychiatrist Jack Drescher, M.D., co-editor of Ex-Gay Research: Analyzing the Spitzer Study and Its Relation to Science, Religion, Politics and Culture, stated that Spitzer corrected misperceptions when the study was misused for political purposes that defended the stance that gays should be “cured.” Wayne Besen, The Executive Director of Truth Wins Out, a nonprofit that fights for gay rights, says that “Dr. Spitzer no way implied in the study that being gay was a choice or that it was possible for anyone who wanted to change to do so in therapy.”

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Minority Issue That Has Become Mainstream

            On May 9, 2012, President Obama became the first President of the U.S. to announce his affirmation for gay marriage. Subsequently, he was featured on the cover of Newsweek as an angel with a rainbow halo. Really!

Reasons for Obama’s Stand
            Did Obama actually “evolve?” Was he being political and shifting attention from this country’s economic woes? Trying to get the gay vote?  Had V-P Joe Biden, Jr. or Secretary of Education Arne Duncan forced Obama’s hand by stating that he was in favor of gay marriage? or e) all of the above.

History-Making Engagement
            Last week, too, history was made in our household. Our 29-year-old son became engaged to his boyfriend who had been married for 15 years. The engagement between these two partners, future husbands or companions (the latter sounds as if he is an aide to an older person, no?) whatever you want to call them, will be long. They will have to consider legal issues such as not being able to file joint tax returns- considerations that we heterosexuals don’t have to worry about.

Not Every Church and State Are Embracing
            As a parent, I want my son to have what I had – a church wedding. But his fiance is a divorced gay Catholic male who has left the Catholic church. So, where will they have to wed? A gay-friendly Unitarian or Metropolitan church? An open field or a Justice of the Peace’s office?
            And which state? My son grew up in New York State as did his fiance. When he was older, he lived in California, which again has same-sex marriage. Except for California and Iowa, most of the same-sex marriage states are concentrated in New England, while the Bible Belt in the South defines marriage as only between a man and a woman. Florida, with its domestic partnerships, where we now live, is out of the question for marriage, although it does allow gays to adopt children.

“Still Miles to Go Before We Can Sleep”
            While I was happy when President Obama spoke of his position favoring gay marriage, my optimism was guarded. According to the Pew Research Center in 2012, 43% of Americans still oppose same-sex marriage so there is much persuasion (although not with the 18-29 age group) yet to be done.
            If the President continues to have the fate of gay marriage settled by the states and their amendments, we can’t hold our breath for universal same-sex marriage in this country. Why not make it a 14th Amendment right throughout the country?  The courts will ultimately bring us equal rights. Why shouldn’t my son be entitled to the same benefits as his heterosexual sister?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Mi Psyche, Su Psyche

Call it karma or whatever you believe in, but I think it’s more than mere coincidence that Mother’s Day, May 13th is the same week as National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week. The two are closely intertwined.
Domino Effect
Mental health professionals have known for years that if a mother is depressed, her kids have a greater chance of being depressed. A depressed mother, for example, may not be able to set limits and discipline in teens, thus leaving the teen vulnerable to poor choices and risky behaviors. 
However, if that mother’s depression lifts, according to studies completed by the National Institute of Mental Health, her children tend to show overall improvement in psychological and social functioning both at home and at school.
GLBT Teens Particularly Vulnerable
The poor choices that depressed teens can make such as suicide and substance abuse can be counteracted by family acceptance behaviors. Caitlin Ryan, Ph.D., founder of the ongoing  Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State, found that LGBT children whose mothers and fathers showed them unconditional love had significantly higher levels of self-esteem and social support. If rejected, these adolescents were over three times more likely to have suicidal thoughts.   
“Hey, What About Me? 
Dr. Ryan recommends that parents need to remain calm when teens come out to them and keep the communication open. This is not always easy to do when confronted with news that may shake your beliefs or prompt you to have unsettling feelings because your child has just altered the family landscape.
A Psychiatrist Suggests Coping Skills
How can a mother or father be loving and parent effectively when they may be hurting inside? To get some answers to this dilemma, I asked Jonathan Tobkes, M.D., a Manhattan psychiatrist, for solutions:
1.     Seek individual therapy to help understand your own expectations and prejudices. Family therapy can help as well to open a dialogue within the family.
2.     Talk with a family member or trusted, non-judgmental friend who has “been there” so their advice and support are based on experience.
3.     Look for a Support Group such as PFLAG (Parents for Lesbians and Gays) near your community. No one expects you to have all the answers.
4.     Read as much as you can on the topic of parenting a GLBT child. The literature you seek, whether on-line or in print, should focus on debunking the stereotypes that our society persists.
Win-Win Situation
So, this Mother’s Day, remember that your child is a blessing. Give your child a hug, and love him just the way he is. He needs unconditional love and you need to feel you’re a good parent, not just on Mother’s Day, but every day.