WHEATON, Illinois, September 29, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Therapists who favor normalizing homosexuality say that it is impossible to change sexual orientation, and that the attempt to change is inherently harmful. However, the final results of a long-term study published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy has joined hundreds of other studies in concluding that such therapy is both possible and potentially well-indicated for many individuals.

Psychologists Stanton L. Jones of Wheaton College and Mark A. Yarhouse of Regent University are the authors of the longitudinal study, which tracked individuals who sought sexual orientation change through involvement in a variety of Christian ministries affiliated with Exodus International.

The authors note that the study overcomes a primary criticism of same-sex attraction (SSA) therapy data - that the results are not adequately documented over a period of time - by assessing its 98 candidates over a period of six to seven years after therapy concluded.

Jones and Yarhouse’s results show the majority of candidates were successful in their goal of changing sexual orientation, and that the attempt was not harmful on average. 

Of the original 98 subjects, 61 were successfully categorized for general outcome at the last assessment. Fifty-three percent were categorized as successful outcomes; specifically, 23 percent reported success in the form of an essential change to heterosexual orientation and functioning, while an additional 30 percent reported no longer identifying as homosexual while maintaining stable behavioral chastity. At the six-year mark, 20 percent reported fully embracing a gay self-identification.

Meanwhile, the authors say the measure of psychological distress did not, on average, reflect increases in psychological distress associated with the attempt to change.

“These results do not prove that categorical change in sexual orientation is possible for everyone or anyone, but rather that meaningful shifts along a continuum that constitute real changes appear possible for some,” states a press release announcing the study. The release also emphasizes, “the results do not prove that no one is harmed by the attempt to change, but rather that the attempt does not appear to be harmful on average or inherently harmful.”

Dr. Jones told LifeSiteNews.com that the study was likely skewed toward optimism towards therapy, as it wasn’t able to count candidates who dropped out early. However, he said, the study still stands out from the crowd for its value as a long-term assessment of the viability of same-sex attraction therapy.

“The ‘silver standard’ [of SSA therapy studies] is a longitudinal study that follows people repeatedly over multiple years and also a prospective study that assesses people from the beginning of change. To the best of our knowledge, ours is the first such study,” wrote Jones in an email Thursday.

“The ‘gold standard’ would be a completely experimental and longitudinal study that would also randomly assign participants to different treatment groups with highly defined treatments; we believe such study would actually be impossible to perform.”

A meta-analysis of over 100 years’ worth of research into therapy for unwanted same-sex attraction published in June 2009 concluded that homosexuality was not immutable, and that individuals seeking change could benefit from therapy. The report, published by NARTH, included 600 reports from clinicians, researchers, and former clients principally published in professional and peer-reviewed journals.

Although the American Psychological Association discourages mental health professionals from offering sexual reorientation therapy, the group’s official position on such therapy states that there is “insufficient evidence” to either approve or discredit the practice.

Homosexuality was declassified as a mental disorder in 1973 in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the universal standard for classification of mental illness, after years of high-pressure lobbying by gay rights activists. The change sparked a policy shift in other top professional associations, which now uniformly oppose SSA therapy.

Dr. Robert Spitzer, who was in charge of the DSM change, reversed his position on therapy for unwanted same-sex attraction nearly 30 years later to support such therapy based on his own research.