ST Online Forum: Think twice before seeking to force change in sexual behaviour (Nov 8)

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Think twice before seeking to force change in sexual behaviour

I REFER to the letter by Mr Shawn Tay Liam Yaw, 'Homosexuals should know that change is possible' (Online forum, Nov 6).

I disagree with his assertion that homosexuals can change, and that the degree of change depends on the motivation of the one seeking help from recovery support groups.

The 'recovery support groups' Mr Tay mentions are, I believe, practitioners of so-called reparative therapy, a disingenuous term used to describe attempts to change a person's sexual orientation through behaviour modification or religious counselling.

Reparative therapy tends to emphasise the physiological ability to engage in heterosexual intercourse, or the suppression of the homoerotic response.

Both of these outcomes fall short of the complex set of attractions and feelings that constitute sexual orientation, and cannot be seen as definitive proof of a change in sexual orientation.

Medical authorities have challenged the purported effectiveness of reparative therapy, with the American Psychiatric Association concluding in a statement in 2000 that 'in the last four decades, reparative therapists have not produced any rigorous scientific research to substantiate their claims of cure'.

Indeed, proponents of reparative therapy have failed to provide rigorous, objective assessments of their findings, relying instead on self-reports and the subjective impressions of their therapists.

Moreover, concerns have been raised about the potential health risks of reparative therapy, which include depression, anxiety and self-destructive behaviour.

The Australian Psychological Society noted in 2000 that reparative therapy tends to overstate the treatment's perceived accomplishments, while glossing over the potential health risks to patients.

Given the dubious success rate and detrimental effects of reparative therapy, individuals grappling with their sexual identity should think twice about programmes that seek to force a change in their sexual behaviour.

It would be healthier for them to sort out their feelings in a non-judgmental environment, by enrolling in counselling programmes by Oogachaga or other neutral support groups in Singapore.

Eugene Quek Wei Liang