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Monthly Archives: November 2011

On “Crossing the Divide”

I had the opportunity to collaborate on two peer-reviewed journal articles both of which were published in this fall. One is on whether people can change their sexual orientation. It has received a lot of attention. It was published in Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy. Information about that study can be found on the web site: www.exgaystudy.org.

The second journal article has not received nearly the same attention, and it probably won’t, which in my view is unfortunate. It was an experiment in “crossing the divide” between the evangelical Christian communityand the gay community. It was a collaborative effort with Lee Beckstead, a gay psychologist whose clinical practice is in Utah. The title of the article we coauthored is: “Using group therapy to navigate and resolve sexual orientation and religious conflicts.” It was published in Counseling and Values.

Here is the abstract:

This article considers the use of group therapy to explore sexual identity questions in light of religious beliefs and values. The authors describe the basis of their group therapy approaches for sexual, religious, and social conf…licts that differ from approaches that provide group members only the option of sexual reorientation to an ex-gay identity or adoption of a lesbian, gay, or bisexual identity. The authors come from different backgrounds and discuss how their perspectives and biases can potentially affect group process and outcome. They present guidelines, structure, content, and strategies for their group therapy approaches.

We begin the article by pointing out that the two polarized approaches to sexual orientation and religious conflicts are insufficient to meet the needs of all people seeking services in this area. The two approaches are, of course, reorientation therapy and gay affirmative (or gay integrative) therapy. We discuss emerging “third way” models, including the Sexual Identity Therapy Framework. We then discuss the overall benefits of group therapy in general and in the area of sexual identity issues. Then Lee Beckstead shares his experience running groups. He discusses his model, guidelines, and theoretical framework. Then I discuss my guidelines and theoretical framework. We then write about our combined understanding in terms of similarities in how we approach group therapy and strategies for resolving sexual identity conflicts. The basic idea here was to explore the question: “What can we agree on?”

We then close the article with a brief discussion of the lessons we learned from our dialogue:

“Crossing the divide” between supposedly opposing viewpoints by extending questions and honest feeback between us proved beneficial on many levels. Central to these dialogues involved offering respect for each other and being more curious rather than combative with each other’s views. This step toward healing the divide between our views seemed congruent with our desire to help clients change the way in which they relate to divides within themselves and their communities. (p. 113)

It was a rewarding experience for me. I know both Lee and I will be criticized for the collaboration. The criticisms will likely come from those who are invested in the polarization. Those who benefit from the “culture war” frame of reference and resulting polarization often react the strongest against those they feel are letting down their side.

But for me there are some potential benefits that come from trying to identity areas of agreement between people who otherwise may disagree. I know that I benefit from working with and having my work critiqued by people who do not have the same blind spots. I see things I did not see before. I also have a chance to review my beliefs and make a more explicit case for them – either in writing or in my own thinking. You can sharpen your thinking and argument by exposing it to those who represent different interest groups. Finally, I learn to identify superordinate goals that can be more readily met in collaboration. This has been helpful for me in many areas of my life, both professionally and personally.

I should also add this: One key to collaboration is identfying moderate voices on the “other side” and being a moderate voice on “your side.” That is harder than it sounds. The pressure to be on the extremes can be great. In this context and for those who are concerned, moderate does not mean a failure of nerve or conviction. Indeed, I appreciate Richard Mouw’s phrase, “Convicted civility”, a posture in which one is clear about one’s beliefs/values/convictions but articulates them with great civility or respect for the other person and his or her views/beliefs/convictions.

I am sure there are people who would not view either Lee or me as “moderate”; so I understand that concern. But compared to some of the voices out there, we would be viewed as moderate to many people. Perhaps it depends in part on your comparison group!

I hope that others will consider whether their work can benefit from similar collaborations.

 

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