Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Psychology and Homosexuality

A rant against the American Psychological Association cropped up here. I'm not sure who wrote it, but it turned up on the PsyUSA mailing list. Now, I'm not an APA member, so I don't care what happens to them, or what people say about them. But I do care about my profession and some of the nonsense that this rant is spewing.

For the record, I dropped my membership a few years after they turned up the screws on clinical psychologists, requiring a surcharge on our dues. I found myself paying much more money than APA was worth, and watching APA ignore the real threats against psychology. As far as I was concerned then (and now), the real threat wasn't managed care, it was the depressed fees we were being paid. Most practitioners in private practice would agree with me now.

Anyway, this rant screamed, "American Psychological Association has gotten out of control in its politicization of psychology." Apparently, according to the paranoid who wrote this:

Psychologists, it seems, soon may not be allowed to administer mental therapy for persons experiencing homosexual tendencies and wanting to change their behavior, without getting their license from the American Psychological Association revoked.
And mental therapy is....?

The ranter is referring to reparative therapy, i.e., efforts to make gay people straight. Back in the 60's and 70's, I recall some gruesome behavior therapy attempts, using electric shocks (no, not electroshock therapy; that's something else). It didn't work. No procedure has been documented to change sexual orientation. Certainly not the modern fundamentalist efforts. None of the groups who allegedly can change sexual orientation have provided any good data to back their claims.

I'm sorry to inform the author that the APA is not a licensing body. In the USA, licensing of psychologists is done at the state level. The APA does write the ethics code adopted by most state boards, but the APA's ability to manage their own members' ethics is minimal. All they can do is to either censor someone or expell them from the APA. Big deal. I'm not a member and I don't care.

Another piece of misinformation gets added:
the funny thing is that 30 years ago, the APA had homosexuality classified as a mental disorder.
The American Psychological Association never classified homosexuality as a mental disorder. It was the American Psychiatric Association, and entirely different body, and one that has been quite hostile to organized psychology.

This person goes on, even more ridiculously,

Shannon Love, also a blogger, 20 years ago was "denounced as a [crypto-fascist] for asserting that [she] thought that a lot of homosexuality had a physiological basis."

Back then, she claims, liberals believed that there were no biological roots to such things as homosexuality, because saying that was reminiscent of the biological engineering programs of the Nazis.

But in the '90s, defending homosexuality as something as unchangeable as the color of your skin became more "politically expedient," said Love.
I have no idea who Shannon Love is. If she was "denounced as a [crypto-fascist] 20 years ago, I'm sorry. To charge that liberals are being politically expedient to accept homosexuality is silly. Just check the results of the last election, when gay marriage wound up on several state ballots.

The thinking on the origins of homosexuality has certainly changed over 20 years, but the reason it's changed is that there is more data available.

Apparently, the ranter doesn't think so:

The human "sexual orientation gene," if there is one, has not been found.

According to gene-watch.org, the only attempt to do so, by Dean Hamer, was controversial and is now under investigation by the federal Office of Research Integrity.
I checked this gene-watch.org web site, and I didn't find the charge against Hamer. But I did find some nonsense. They also say:
The claim that genes account for the transmission within families of schizophrenia, bipolar manic depression, and alcoholism have all been contested, and most such reports have eventually been withdrawn.
Maybe on their planet. Here on earth, it is recognized that genetics play a critical role (but not 100% role) in all of those illnesses.

But what both this ranter and gene-watch.org do is set up a straw horse. I don't think anybody believes that there is one gene controlling homosexuality. Instead, our sexuality is controlled by a complex interaction of genes, with potential interplay from both pre- and post-natal influences.

Of course, when we're all done, the ranter has to add:
Regardless of the true nature of the causes of homosexuality, the anecdotes described above show what can happen when emotions and agendas get in the way of calm, rational debate.
A clear case of the pot calling the kettle black.

There is plenty of good data about homosexuality and other sexual minorities available here. Wikipedia has an unfinished section on biology and sexual orientation, which has some good references.

1 comment:

Chris said...

This is actually something I've encountered many times, and though I am a member of the APA (for the journals), I'm not a clinical psychologist, so I try not to get involved in clinical issues. But I don't really see this as a strictly, or even primarily clinical issue, and every time I see the argument that the APA is politicized because it has sided with the empirical data on the issue of homosexuality, I get pissy. Glad to see someone taking them to task for the nonsense.