The American Psychological Association’s newly released report on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation evaluated peer-reviewed studies of sexual orientation change efforts that were conducted between 1960 and 2007. The report criticized these studies’ measurements of efficacy and safety as methodologically unsound.
Among the studies found to be unreliable was a 2007 study by evangelicals Mark Yarhouse and Stanton Jones. Their work was funded by Exodus and it utilized activist research subjects who were recruited with help from Exodus and the ex-gay therapy lobby NARTH. Critics said the study suffered from the following shortcomings:
- The study was conducted by two supporters of ex-gay ministries.
- Jones and Yarhouse originally sought 300 participants, but after more than a year of seeking to round up volunteers, they had to settle on only 98 participants.
- During the course of the study, 25 dropped out, and one participant’s answers were too incomplete to be used.
- Of the remaining 72 only 11 reported “satisfactory, if not uncomplicated, heterosexual adjustment.” (direct quote). Some of these 11 remained primarily homosexual in attraction or, at best, bisexual, but were satisfied that they were just slightly more attracted to the opposite sex, or slightly less attracted to the same sex.
- After the study ended, but before the book was finished, one of the 11 wrote to the authors to say that he lied — he really wanted to change, had really hoped he had changed, and answered that he had changed. But he concluded that he hadn’t, came out, and is now living as an openly gay man.
- Dozens of participants experienced no lessening of same-sex attraction and no increase in opposite-sex attraction, but were classified as “success” stories by Jones and Yarhouse simply because they maintained celibacy — something many conservative gay people already do.
- The study purposely declined to interview any ex-gay survivors: people who claim to have been injured by ex-gay programs and who have formed support groups such as Beyond Ex-Gay. Despite — or because of — this omission, the authors of this study make the unfounded claim that there is little or no evidence of harm resulting from unproven, unsupervised, unlicensed, and amateur ex-gay counseling tactics.
In short, the study design was so flawed that no mainstream, peer-reviewed, mental-health journal would publish it. And the study’s supposed success stories were gay celibate individuals who adopted false labels to direct attention away from frequently undiminished same-sex attraction.
While it acknowledged their sincere observations about clients’ conservative religious values, this week’s APA report criticized Jones & Yarhouse on page 90:
A published study that appeared in the grey literature in 2007 (Jones & Yarhouse, 2007) has been described by SOCE advocates and its authors as having successfully addressed many of the methodological problems that affect other recent studies, specifically the lack of prospective research. The study is a convenience sample of self-referred populations from religious self-help groups. The authors claim to have found a positive effect for some study respondents in different goals such as decreasing same-sex sexual attractions, increasing other-sex attractions, and maintaining celibacy. However, upon close examination, the methodological problems described in Chapter 3 (our critique of recent studies) are characteristic of this work, most notably the absence of a control or comparison group and the threats to internal, external, construct, and statistical validity. Best-practice analytical techniques were not performed in the study, and there are significant deficiencies in the analysis of longitudinal data, use of statistical measures, and choice of assessment measures. The authors’ claim of finding change in sexual orientation is unpersuasive due to their study’ methodological problems.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Yarhouse, of Pat Robertson’s Regent University, praised the APA report for urging a “creative approach to gay clients’ religious beliefs but ‚Äî like [Exodus president Alan] Chambers ‚Äî disagreed with its skepticism about changing sexual orientation.” The Times continued:
Yarhouse and a colleague, Professor Stanton Jones of Wheaton College, will be releasing findings at the APA meeting Friday from their six-year study of people who went through Exodus programs. More than half of 61 subjects either converted to heterosexuality or “disidentified” with homosexuality while embracing chastity, their study said.
To Jones and Yarhouse, their findings prove change is possible for some people, and on average the attempt to change will not be harmful.
Given that the APA has already criticized their research methods, it will be interesting to see whether re-release of flawed data — with some updates and changes — successfully shifts media coverage of the APA report.