Thursday, October 11, 2007

Therapy shown *somewhat* effective

The most encouraging news last month from the study by Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse of ex-gays was how realistically it was reported, in some quarters at least. In the words of Christianity Today, it's "an older, wiser, ex-gay movement" that
... is certainly clearer about what it has to offer. Early hopes for instant healing have given way to belief that transformation occurs through a lifetime of discipleship.
Alan Chambers, the low-key opening-night speaker, emphasizes that there is no step-by-step formula for overcoming homosexuality. "Hear me loud and clear: You're not going to get cured this week. … We don't choose our feelings, but we do choose how we are going to live. I choose every day to deny what comes naturally to me. … I have to rely on Jesus Christ every day."
The companion article at CT makes it clear that this research cannot be dismissed as simple advocacy research, precisely because the results were relatively modest and in some ways cut against whatever biased interests the researchers may have.
Jones and Yarhouse emphasize the imperfections of their research, carefully noting points at which their method could be criticized. For example, they had hoped for 300 or more participants, but found many Exodus ministries mysteriously uncooperative. In the end, they settled for 98 people in their initial sample.
As Jones and Yarhouse themselves note, both skeptics and true believers will find evidence for their arguments.
They found that 38 percent could be described as "Success: Conversion" or "Success: Chastity," with another 29 percent continuing hopefully, even though they could not yet demonstrate convincing change. They compare this "success rate" to results shown in a recent, reputable study of drug therapy for depression.
Jones and Yarhouse found, contrary to professional consensus, that change is possible. But they did not find that change is possible for everyone. They write, "The fact that some human beings can break the four-minute-mile barrier establishes that running a four-minute mile is not impossible, but that same fact does not establish that anyone (every human being) can break the four-minute-mile barrier."
Here's the relevant breakdown, in my opinion, from a more-laudatory Baptist Press article (the source of the pie chart up top):
At the end of the study, the subjects were placed in six categories, in order from success to failure:
-- 15 percent reported their conversion was successful and that they had had "substantial reduction" in homosexual attraction and "substantial conversion" to heterosexual attraction. They were categorized as "success: conversion."
-- 23 percent said their conversion was successful and that homosexual attraction was either missing or "present only incidentally or in a way that does not seem to bring about distress." They were labeled "success: chastity."
-- 29 percent had experienced "modest decreases" in homosexual attraction and were not satisfied with their change, but pledged to continue trying. This category was labeled "continuing."
-- 15 percent had not changed and were conflicted about what to do next.
-- 4 percent had not changed and had quit the change process, but had not embraced the "gay identity."
-- 8 percent had not changed, had quit the process and had embraced the "gay identity."
Understand that these are the success rates that *already presuppose* the strongest factor disposing toward success -- a religiously-motivated desire to be rid of same-sex attractions. That applied to everybody in this study. And still, the chances of little or no change were acknowledged to be greater than the chances of satisfactory change (29+15>23+15). Also, the chances were only 1 in 6 of "substantial" conversion. And note the word is "substantial," i.e., not "total."

To be sure, these subjects were not broken down by age and (the Baptist Press notes) they tended to be well-experienced sexually. It simply makes sense that the more ingrained a habit or pattern of behavior is, the harder it will be to unlearn.

I've generally been critical of ex-gay therapy, largely because I think it gets oversold and misses the ultimate point, which is not becoming "straight" but living chastely (whatever that means according to our state of life). But this is a well-designed study within the limits the subject matter inherently imposes, if not a very large one. And its modest conclusions give it credibility and show what scheisse the sniping against it really is.


Rick said...

Suppose we step back entirely from the issue of sexual orientation, and look at the pie chart as representing a population of folks attempt to change some “generic” entrenched habit with the following features:

(a) initially developed some time in the teenage years
(b) full-blown practice in the early to mid-20s;
(c) habit well entrenched in his late 20s
(d) decides to "kick the habit", say, in the late 20s to mid 30s.

A behavioral therapist looking at that pie chart as the probable behavioral treatment outcomes of the above-described habit would almost certainly say "makes sense to me."

In brief, 10-20% patients would entirely "kick the habit", another 20% would find themselves “abstemious” but still prone to temporary but strong temptations, and the rest are pretty much where they were when they started therapy.

Having taught learning theory and behavior modification for 13 years along with an active behavioral therapy practice, I find the results depicted in the chart pretty much what you would find with any "entrenched habit" with the developmental features that I described.

The Story Of Us........ said...

Wow I'm glad to find you.
I wandered over here from my neighbor's blog...Dale Price...

I've gotten the courage to post about Christians hating homosexuals. Though I am not Catholic, I am interested to hear your take on my post, if you have the time or interest, as I don't have any gay friends readily available to help me think this through.

Any insight would be greatly appreciated.

CourageMan said...

You mean this post?

The Story Of Us........ said...

That would be the one.

Am I failing to see something?

I haven't had many responses from Christians one way or the other pertaining to welcoming openly gay people into our homes, churches and as friends. There seems to be such a wall when it comes to accepting the individual while they deal with their walk with God on a personal level.

It just seems like people are hung up on preaching to them, all the time.

Why aren't people preaching to me, all the time, about my gluttony?

What am I missing?