Melinda Selmys is the author of Sexual Authenticity: An Intimate Reflection on Homosexuality and Catholicism. It is a particularly thoughtful reflection on the complexities surrounding sexual and religious identity conflicts. She recently wrote an article on the Mercator website that deals with the CA ban on sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) for minors.
What I appreciate about the article is that it attempts to lay out the issues in terms of difficulties. The first difficulty is what change means, followed by misrepresentations of the likelihood of success by some proponents of SOCE. In particular, I appreciated this line: “Clients must, however, have the right to receive accurate information about treatment in order to form realistic expectations and goals.”
In the mental health field, we refer to this as informed consent. It is essentially what the average person needs to know to make an informed, self-consciously chosen decision about participating in an approach to therapy. In my previous writing (tracing back to 1998), I argued that those who provide SOCE obtain advanced or expanded informed consent given the complexities and controversies surrounding change efforts.
In my own clinical practice, I do not provide SOCE; rather, I address sexual identity in a model of therapy referred to as Sexual Identity Therapy (SIT). This is an approach to therapy that is client-centered and identify-focused. It was noted in the 2009 APA Task Force Report on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation as a “third way” approach to addressing sexual identity among those who are religious and experience a conflict between their sexual and religious identities.
In the Sexual Identity Therapy Framework (SITF), we also advocate advanced informed consent to SIT, even though this model is about identity formation and personal congruence (not change of sexual orientation).
Selmys address another issue that I think is important: services to minors. Here is what she shares:
Even if young people are theoretically seeking treatment under their own power, many feel intense pressure to overcome homosexual desires in order to please their parents, and some fear punishment or recrimination if they fail. Unscrupulous therapists often market their services primarily to parents and guardians, preying on the hopes and fears of those who have the ability to place adolescents in treatment.
As I’ve shared in previous posts, I do not see that many minors seeking reorientation therapy. Perhaps they do not come to my office because that is not the therapy I provide; but I think it is more likely the case that most minors who present for therapy do so because of the distress their parents feel (as opposed to personal distress). There have been exceptions, but that is generally what I have seen.
That does not mean I am in support of the CA ban. In fact, I am against it for several reasons I’ve outlined here and here.
But interested readers will find in the article by Melinda Selmys a thoughtful reflection on the issues that are raised by those who provide SOCE. Her own story of being in a mixed orientation marriage adds another dimension to her reflections that I hope are elaborated upon in future articles, as the study of people in mixed orientation marriages has been an interest of mine.