Monday, May 21, 2012

Spitzer Reportedly Recants Controversial Reparative Therapy Study

The “patina of scientific credibility” to which leaders of the so-called “ex-gay” movement have been clinging in their embrace of a deeply controversial 2001 study on “reparative therapy” has been taken away.

   That’s what psychiatrist Jack Drescher, M.D., told Psychiatric News about reports that Robert Spitzer, M.D., the author of the study that concluded that some “highly motivated” individuals could change their sexual orientation through so-called reparative therapy, had essentially repudiated it. “There’s very little scientific evidence that people can change their sexual orientation, but individuals in the ex-gay movement try to lend their beliefs a patina of scientific credibility,” Drescher said. “Spitzer’s study seemed to give them that patina, which he himself has just taken away.”

An article appearing Friday in the New York Times reported that Spitzer—who is well known to APA members as a leader in the development of DSM-III and DSM-IV, and renowned as one of those most responsible for getting homosexuality removed from the DSM in 1973—had renounced his 2001 study. The study had been presented at the 2001 annual meeting of APA and published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior in 2003.

 “I believe I owe the gay community an apology for my study making unproven claims of the efficacy of reparative therapy,” Spitzer wrote in the letter to Ken Zucker, M.D., editor of the Archives of Sexual Behavior. “I also apologize to any gay person who wasted time and energy undergoing some form of reparative therapy because they believed that I had proven that reparative therapy works with some `highly motivated’ individuals.”

Psychiatric News could not reach Spitzer for verification. But Drescher, who is a friend and colleague of Spitzer's, said he has spoken many times with Spitzer over the years and that he has long acknowledged the study’s failures. “I don’t think Spitzer realized at the time how his name, which is well known, would be used by people for purposes with which he didn’t agree,” Drescher told Psychiatric News.  The Times article is here. The letter to Zucker is here.  For coverage of the original study see Psychiatric News here.

(Image: Clive Chilvers/