Top Health Stories of 2012: Retraction of Gay Reparative Therapy Research

The Dr. Oz Show medical staff chose the top most innovative, interesting and influential health headlines of 2012. Each day until the new year, we’ll round up and revisit the major headlines that had a profound effect on science, medicine and your health over the last 12 months.

Headline #7: Prominent Psychiatrist Retracts Research Article on Gay Reparative Therapy

When Dr. Robert Spitzer published his controversial 2003 study that supported the possibility that one can change their sexual orientation, gay repair therapists finally got the professional validation they needed to endorse practices that many medical professionals and gay-rights activists consider “harmful” and “dangerous.”

Spitzer interviewed 200 men and women who claimed to have been “cured” of their same-sex attractions. He found that the “majority of participants gave reports of a “change” in their sexual orientation after their chosen therapy. Ironically, Dr. Spitzer was one of the psychiatrists that aided in declassifying homosexuality as a mental disorder in the 1970s.
No study is perfect, and many experts in the field found Dr. Spitzer’s 2003 study had many flaws. Because the study was interview-based, there was a high chance of biased or fuzzy interviews. Many sought treatment because of their religious beliefs and/or spoke publicly in favor of changing sexual orientation, which heavily increases the chance of biased reports of success. The study also didn’t focus on any particular type of therapy. Many of Spitzer’s interviewees didn’t even see a therapist, but instead worked with pastoral counselors or did independent bible study. Finally, the study wasn’t peer-reviewed. Most research studies are required to be “peer-reviewed” or examined by experts in the field before being accepted as science. Nevertheless, groups that supported gay reparative therapy used this as a tool to justify their techniques.

Dr. Spitzer eventually retracted his findings, mentioning that “there was no way to judge the credibility of subject reports of change in sexual orientation.” It’s quite possible that the participants’ accounts may be a form of “self-deception” or “outright lying.” Spitzer felt that he owed “the gay community an apology for [his] study making unproven claims of the efficacy of reparative therapy.” He also apologized “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.”

Because of Dr. Spitzer’s retraction and apology, many gay-rights activists consider 2012 to be a milestone year for lesbian and gay mental health.

Read More of 2012’s Top Health Stories: