from Clinical/Therapeutic Issues
Summary Written by Benjamin Erwin, Ph.D.
Karten, E. Y., & Wade, J. C. (2010). Sexual orientation change efforts in men: A client perspective. The Journal of Men's Studies, 18, 84-102.
March 1st, 2010 - Dr. Elan Y. Karten and Dr. Jay C. Wade authored a study published in the Journal of Men's Studies investigating the social and psychological characteristics of men experiencing unwanted homosexual attractions seeking sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE). This study was based on Dr. Karten's doctoral dissertation at Fordham University, New York, under the direction of Dr. Jay Wade.
Karten and Wade make both timely and significant contributions to the body of evidence understanding SOCE. They investigated self-reported change, which factors were statistically associated with change, and which treatment interventions and techniques were perceived by clients to be most helpful. The authors specifically investigated whether male identity, sexual identity, high religiosity, psychological relatedness to other men, gender role conflict regarding affection between men, and marital status would be related to self-reported change in sexual and psychological functioning.
Karten & Wade found that overall clients experienced "a decrease in homosexual feelings and behavior, an increase in heterosexual feelings and behavior, and a positive change in psychological functioning." The researchers discovered that the most significant factors correlating to successful SOCE were reduced conflict in expressing nonsexual affection with other men, being married, and feeling disconnected with men prior to treatment.
This study provides significant empirical evidence to factors related to SOCE. Although several meta-analysis reviews have shown the efficacy of SOCE (e.g. Byrd & Nicolosi, 2002; Jones & Yarhouse, 2000), Karten and Wade provide insight into which factors play a significant role in the change process. Such factors, like reduced conflict in expressing nonsexual affection with men, provide valuable empirical evidence that homosexual thoughts and feelings are greatly influenced by social and psychological factors. Such factors include one's sense of gender identity and relatedness to other men. Daryl Bem's theory, that the "Exotic Becomes Erotic," is another way to summarize this social constructive viewpoint. This suggests that the absence/presence of healthy male relationships plays a critical role in the development/treatment of homosexuality.
For clinicians and clients currently involved with SOCE, this study highlights the importance of developing appropriate nonsexual male relationships. Participants perceived the most helpful interventions to be a men's weekend/retreat, a psychologist, and a mentoring relationship. Considering the above findings regarding the significance of male identity and nonsexual affectionate relationships with other men, it is notable that at least two of these interventions involve healthy relationship development with men. In addition, participants perceived the two most helpful techniques to be understanding better the causes of one's homosexuality and one's emotional needs and issues and developing nonsexual relationships with other men.
Karten and Wade also found that SOCE actually helped psychological functioning. This is in direct contradiction to the APA's executive summary from Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation that states "there was some evidence to indicate that individuals experienced harm from SOCE" (pg. 3). Any psychological intervention or technique has the risk to produce uncomfortable feelings and harm. Ethical guidelines dictate that informed consent statements disclose this fact to clients. However, it is a double standard to assume that SOCE produces any significantly different effects for clients than any other form of psychotherapy or counseling. Karten & Wade provide valuable evidence that SOCE is not contraindicated, but in fact helps psychological functioning.
This study reflects that mainstream literature is beginning to give voice to scientific research and empirical inquiry regarding SOCE. Although such research may not be considered politically correct, Karten and Wade should be praised for their courage to investigate such issues, and Fordham University should be lauded for sponsoring it. Karten and Wade have followed similar pioneers such as Dean Byrd who asserts "though such research into sexual reorientation may be viewed as politically incorrect, no longer can it be ignored. Sociopolitical concerns must not interfere with the scientist's freedom to research any reasonable hypothesis, or to explore the efficacy of any reasonable treatment."
While some would encourage practitioners to provide "affirmative" treatments but "not to aim to alter sexual orientation" (APA's executive summary, pg. 6), SOCE seeks to honor client self-determination. It is ironic that as society promotes self determination and autonomy, efforts to restrict the research and practice of SOCE actually discriminate against the self determination and autonomy of those with unwanted homosexual attractions. The Journal of Men's Studies should be commended for their integrity in publishing honest research regardless of popular political sentiment. Perhaps other journals and scholarly publications will follow suit.