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Therapy

By Jason Park

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Therapeutic methods
Choosing a therapist
The therapeutic process
If therapy is not available to you
Individual therapy
Group therapy

Therapist man

As helpful as support groups can be, they are not a substitute for individual and group therapy because there are issues that can only be dealt with effectively in sessions with a trained therapist. Therapy can help you clarify your identity and make life choices that are consistent with your personal values. It is a process of self-understanding, self-acceptance, and growth. For most people, that means difficult, painful compromises. Although your life becomes more clear, it may not become easier; there are no shortcuts to personal growth. Human emotions are complex and difficult situations are not easily unraveled. This section explains different therapeutic approaches and gives information on choosing the right therapist. It then discusses individual and group therapy and explains how each can be beneficial.

Modern therapy for those who struggle with same-sex attractions bears little resemblance to the sordid history of treatment for emotional problems. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the medical profession regarded homosexuality as a mental illness and attempted to cure it by drastic measures such as electroshock therapy, hormone injections, castration, hysterectomy, and even lobotomy.1 Today, professionals use more humanistic approaches to help people understand and deal with their feelings. There is no need to fear therapy and certainly no reason to feel inadequate because you see a therapist. In today's complex world, most people can benefit from therapy for some reason at some time in their life. If you consider the suggestions in this chapter and choose your therapist wisely, it can be a richly rewarding experience.

Therapeutic methods

Within psychotherapy, there is a broad range of treatment approaches, some of which are helpful and others damaging.

Approaches to avoid

Many mental health professionals practice "gay-affirmative" therapy, which encourages individuals to "come out of the closet" and accept their homosexual orientation, which they say is a natural and healthy sexual variation. This kind of therapy proposes that the reason the person is unhappy with his homosexuality is because of his own self-hate and because of society's anti-gay prejudices. This approach is not in harmony with gospel principles and should be avoided.

Approaches that are beneficial

Other forms of psychotherapy allow individuals to determine for themselves if homosexual attraction fits within their personal values. If it doesn't, the therapy helps them learn to love themselves and grow in self-worth through becoming congruent with their personal value system. Standard psychotherapeutic methods can help people explore the source of their problem, become more secure in their gender-identity, and develop healthy, nonerotic same-sex relationships that over time can diminish the sexual attraction they feel toward men.

Therapy will likely not be a cure in the sense of erasing all homosexual feelings. However, it can help strengthen masculine identification. By growing beyond their same-sex attractions, individuals can achieve congruence with their personal values and find peace of mind.

Some people have found success with the following approaches: gender wholeness therapy (see www.genderwholeness.com), reparative therapy (see Reparative Therapy of Male Homosexuality: A New Clinical Approach by Joseph Nicolosi) reorientation therapy (see Homosexual No More: Practical Strategies for Christians Overcoming Homosexuality by Dr. William Consiglio), and re-education therapy (see Homosexuality: A New Christian Ethic by Elizabeth Moberly).

Choosing a therapist

Choosing the right therapist is critical because the wrong therapist can do you more harm than good. Since the type of therapy described on this page is not as widely practiced as gay-affirmative therapy, you may have to search to find the right therapist for you. Choose a therapist that can understand and support you in your personal values. In this respect, the ideal counselor would be LDS or at least a man who upholds Christian values. He needs to understand and support your religious motivations to change in the context of the eternal plan of salvation. He needs to understand and be able to teach you the divinely-appointed roles of men and women and he needs to be a good role model of a Christlike man because in many ways he will be your friend and mentor. Dr. Elizabeth Moberly advises that the therapist is emotionally involved in the process, within therapeutic guidelines. Depending on your particular needs, you may wish to look for a psychoanalyst, a psychiatrist, a psychologist, or a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW).

It is advisable that men choose a male therapist for several reasons. Since part of the problem is due to defensive detachment from men, a male therapist is in a better position than a woman to help you work through some of the developmental blocks you had with your father or with other men. A male therapist is also in a better position to help you understand other men and guide you into relationships with them. If your therapy experience is successful, the intimate relationship you develop with your therapist will be healing in itself and will encourage you to develop relationships with other men.

You may contact Evergreen International to get a recommendation on a therapist who fits the descriptions above. There may also be a local LDS Family Services office near you. Click here for a list of offices.

Since therapy is a major investment of time and money, be sure that your therapist will be able to provide you the help you need. Discuss with him how he will approach therapy with you. Talk about your value system and what you expect from therapy. Don't hesitate to talk with him about the finances involved and be sure they fit within your budget. Your medical insurance may cover some of the visits.

The therapeutic process

Part of the therapeutic process will be to explore the past. Joe Dallas writes that "we can learn from the past and thus improve the present." Further, "the past helps us to understand the present. And what we understand, we can deal with."2 This process was helpful to me and I recommend it. However, I suggest four cautions:

Don't blame the past for your situation and assume the role of a victim who has no control over the present. No matter how painful the past has been, you cannot avoid responsibility for what you do in the present. Your goal now is to try to understand the causes of your struggle to learn what you can do to resolve them.

Watch out for invented memories. There is a tendency to invent past experiences to explain the present. If you read that certain childhood experiences can cause certain reactions, you may come to believe that those things happened to you in your childhood. You may reinterpret or skew the past or even invent in your mind events that never happened, all in an effort to make sense of the present.

Not finding all the answers in the past does not mean you can't resolve the present. At one point during my therapy I was trying to understand why I developed certain feelings during grade school. My therapist gave me an assignment to go back to my elementary school and spend an hour walking around the playground and try to recreate the feelings I had during a certain event. I did as he suggested, but never found any clues. To this day, I don't understand why I reacted to the event the way I did. Although I didn't find any clues to the present, I don't let that bother me. The past doesn't need to be completely explainable.

Don't concentrate on the past to the exclusion of the present. Although the past may hold keys to help you understand the present, concentrate the majority of your time on your current feelings, actions, plans, failures, and successes. The past is only valuable inasmuch as it helps deal with the present. The extent to which the past is important depends on the level of trauma in the past. If you have not suffered abuse, you may not need to spend much time dealing with the past. If you have been abused, you may need to grieve and resolve past trauma.

If therapy is not available to you

If you cannot afford therapy or if there is not a good therapist available, you can still benefit by reading carefully-selected self-help books, journaling, and trying to analyze your life. Set up a plan of action and follow through on that plan. Look at your life as though you are watching a video tape and identify the things you want to change, then make specific assignments to yourself to develop relationships and do things to build your self-image. You can be accountable to God through prayer, to yourself by using your journal, and to a friend in person or by telephone, letters, or e-mail. However, be careful not to let e-mail, letters, or even the telephone replace face-to-face contact with other men because this personal interaction is critical.

Individual therapy

A trained therapist can guide you through your personal growth process. He is your personal counselor to help you put all the pieces of the puzzle together. He can help you see how to integrate your personal study, spiritual growth, support groups, personal relationships, and behavior modification. He can help you see in an objective way how to keep your life in balance. He can be your mentor and your confidant.

Individual therapy is an essential part of the process for most men who resolve their same-sex attractions. Although it will not take care of all your needs, it can give direction to all your activities. For example, if you also participate in a sports program, group therapy, support group, or a community men's group, your therapist can help you see how all these pieces fit together and help you keep them in balance.

As you talk with your therapist, you will discover things about yourself. Often, because of shame or guilt we have buried some things so deep within us that we don't even realize them ourselves. The therapist is trained to ask the right questions to help you see things in perspective and guide you through the process. Use him as a sounding board. Be honest with him about your problems, concerns, and fears. Don't keep any secrets from him. Therapy will be most effective when you have a completely open and honest relationship. The therapist is bound by ethical standards to keep everything you say completely confidential. He can't even tell someone else that you are seeing him. Together you can develop action plans to take you through each step of the process and you can report back to him on both your successes and failures. The journey won't seem so lonely or so hard if you have a therapist by your side the whole way. Individual counseling can help you to:

  • identify and resolve personal issues and underlying factors.
  • identify and clearly define your personal goals.
  • develop a personal action plan then help you keep working on the plan.
  • identify and work around the roadblocks.
  • receive encouragement when you get discouraged.
  • increase your awareness of things you need to work on.
  • give insight into your feelings and actions.
  • give an outside perspective (help you see black and white when all you see is gray).
  • identify your personal strengths and weaknesses.
  • give a forum to talk things out and get feedback.
  • give someone to be accountable to for your behavior, growth, and personal plan of action.
  • learn to generalize lessons learned to other situations.
  • learn to internalize new information (make your heart believe).
  • learn how to live congruently with your personal values and belief system.
  • learn to control compulsive behaviors and overcome addictions.

Make your sessions count. Not only are these therapy sessions expensive, but if change is important to you, do all you can to make them as helpful as possible. I found it helpful to make written notes about my sessions and refer to them often. I wrote in my journal as much detail about each session as I could. It was helpful to review the things we discussed and it gave me something to refer back to later and monitor my progress. I especially made notes about things I wanted to think about further or pursue in a future session. I did not want to let fleeting ideas escape me; they were often inspiration that turned out to be helpful. Be sure to write down the assignments you receive from your therapist and be sure you follow through with them.

Group therapy

Group therapy can also be helpful, but is of secondary importance to individual therapy. Group therapy has some of the same advantages as a support group. The difference is that group therapy is always run by a trained therapist who is there to facilitate the discussion in meaningful ways. Since support groups are not guided, it is easy for members of the group to hide or even deny their feelings. But in a therapy group, the therapist can help members confront issues head-on and then be sure the issues are brought to healthy conclusions.

If you are involved in group therapy, it is important that you also receive individual therapy so you can work out issues that come up in the group setting. Group therapy can help you to:

  • get the mutual support of others who share your struggle.
  • hold each other accountable.
  • learn to accept others and feel accepted by them.
  • learn to disclose.
  • discuss issues of importance and get the feedback of others.
  • learn to generalize to other situations the lessons you learn.
  • learn to internalize new information (make your heart believe).
  • learn relationship and communication skills.
  • learn to be assertive.
  • reinforce newly learned traits.
  • experience relationships and activities in a safe environment, as a bridge to the real world.
  • learn compassion for others as you begin to see their challenges from their perspective.

My friend Todd had been so closed up that no one in his life really knew much about him. Then he went to group therapy where he had the chance to explain his troubles to others and he began to open up. He wrote, "Each time, it became a little easier. I noticed that rather than being dangerous, opening up and sharing feelings and being really close to people on an emotional level was kind of nice. For the first time in my life, I no longer felt like I was unacceptable because I started to find out that people could know everything about me and still want to be my friend. In fact, through the sharing of deep emotions, I gained some of my closest friends."

 

Endnotes:

1. Homosexuality: Opposing Viewpoints, William Dudley, editor, Greenhaven Press, San Diego, CA, 1993, p. 125.

2. Desires in Conflict: Answering the Struggle for Sexual Identity, Joe Dallas, Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, OR, 1991, p. 87.

 

Copyright © 2007 by Century Publishing, PO Box 11307, Salt Lake City, UT 84147. This document may be duplicated and shared electronically for personal use as long as it is copied in its entirety. This notice must appear on all copies. You may reach the author at jasonpark@centurypubl.com
 

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