from Clinical/Therapeutic Issues
Thursday, August 12, 2010. American Psychological Association Convention San Diego, CA
Symposium Chair: A. Dean Byrd, Ph.D., MBA, MPH, University of Utah School of Medicine
Presenters: Stanton L. Jones, Ph.D., Wheaton College
Presenters: Christopher H. Rosik, Ph.D., Link Care/Fresno Pacific University
Presenters: Richard N. Williams, Ph.D., Brigham Young University
Summary submitted by Benjamin Erwin, PhD
This symposium reviewed the scientific evidence which led the American Psychological Association (APA) Task Force to conclude that there was "insufficient evidence to support sexual orientation change efforts" (SOCE). The panelists presented arguments that the Task Force Report failed to provide sufficient evidence to support their conclusions. In addition, the presenters discussed the importance of demonstrating respect for both religious orientation as well as sexual orientation of those who seek psychological care.
Dr. Jones first praised the report for its limited acknowledgement that "some individuals modified their sexual orientation identity (i.e. individual or group membership and affiliation, self-labeling) and other aspects of sexuality." He also praised the report for its clear articulation of methodological standards for present and future research.
However, Dr. Jones focused on several aspects where the report is methodologically flawed. He provided evidence demonstrating that the Task Force report:
Dr. Jones' main thesis that the above mentioned flaws "compromise the scientific utility of the Task Force Report, despite its positive features" was convincing.
Dr. Rosik presented a conceptual framework of how different world views may help those on both sides of the SOCE debate better understand each other. He used a conceptual framework of moral foundations provided by Haidt (e.g. Haidt & Graham 2007, 2009). Haidt's framework consists of two categories of moral foundations, namely individualizing foundations (harm & care, fairness & reciprocity) and binding foundations (in group loyalty, authority & respect, and purity & sanctity).
Dr. Rosik highlighted research that shows the tendency of liberal minded individuals to value individualizing foundations, and see authority and tradition as harmful. Yet, religious conservatives also place an equal weight on binding moral foundations. This divergence is in part responsible for misunderstanding and judgment surrounding SOCE. Dr. Rosik asserted the ethical responsibility for science to understand a religious conservative viewpoint which includes binding moral foundations. Religious diversity as well as sexual orientation diversity should be equally prioritized as valid aspects of a person's culture.
Finally, Dr. Rosik offered a cogent argument for "research that approaches the topic from a diversity of sociopolitical and value orientations" that represents the inclusiveness and tolerance espoused by mental health. He shared a dream where research on SOCE could be done conjointly with those on both sides of the issue to help "ensure that scientific knowledge is furthered rather than stifled as it pertains to SOCE."
The discussant, Dr. Williams, related his concerns that the authors of the Task Force Report used poor scientific methods which biased their findings. He cited the report's claim that it is "scientific fact" that homosexuality is "normal" and "positive." Such evaluations are outside the realm of objective science. This is evidence that the authors misused and misappropriated "science to justify certain evaluative claims" rather than documenting what can be explained by empirical observation.
Dr. Williams further described that the Task Forces uses abstract terms such as "sexual attractions," "identities," "sexuality," and "orientations" as factual constructs. Abstractions such as these confuse things humans do with things humans are. He describes the problematic consequences of taking such a position as losing the "human phenomena" and the "behaviors and lived experiences - lived in the person's own language." Dr. Williams summarized his comments and the symposium by stating:
The issues discussed by the Task Force and the stance they take arise from a set of grounding assumptions. Given those assumptions, they cannot conclude anything other than what they did. These assumptions are that people are not moral agents, that human behaviors are caused by biological givenness, that abstractions like orientation, attraction, and sexuality have an existence apart from human actions, and that they exert causal influence in human affairs. This world view, and personal, political, and moral agendas that are over laid on it, define a set of issues surrounding SOCE, and predispose certain conclusions, captured in the Task Force report. Within this world view the issues cannot be otherwise. However I assert that the world is not like this. I assert that human beings are indeed moral agents, that human behaviors have meaning and moral purpose that are fundamental to human life, that human behaviors arise out of the acts of agents making sense of the constraints of context within a world or moral purpose and intention, that orientations, attractions, and sexuality are things we do, not things we are, that abstractions are merely descriptions for the actions we perform. I believe that a real solution to the issues raised by the controversy surrounding SOCE will come only from a careful and through analysis of the starting point of our understanding of ourselves. Meanwhile, the Task Force, as reported in this symposium is intellectually unpersuasive. p. 19
Society finds itself contemplating several important decisions regarding human sexuality at this time. To say that human sexuality is on center stage in the current social and political arena is an understatement. This only adds to the importance of using sound and valid empirical evidence and interpreting the evidence with "intellectual humility" (i.e. as free of bias and ideology as possible). Such evidence is vital to help policy makers, leaders, and clinicians make informed decisions. Failure to do so will ultimately be harmful to society as a whole, as well as to individuals. Specifically surrounding the SOCE issue, the rights of individuals to seek out and obtain competent psychological care for unwanted homosexual thoughts and feelings is at stake. Respectful discourse, like this symposium, is a crucial means to help ensure that Society is well informed on what science can and cannot say about human sexuality.