What is reparative therapy and can being gay be ‘cured’?


Reparative therapy is an intervention that aims to change an individual’s sexual orientation from lesbian, gay or bisexual to a heterosexual orientation. It also aims to decrease same-sex sexual attraction and/or behaviors. The therapy is based on the belief that homosexuality is a disorder and that sexual orientation can be changed. Reparative therapy is also known as conversion therapy. In essence, it is a therapy designed to cure the gay.

Who offers reparative therapy?

Reparative therapy is practiced by both those with formal qualifications in health care and those without any health care training. For example, it is practiced by psychologists, pastoral care workers, social workers, counselors, therapists, and religious leaders or volunteers.

What does it involve?

This type of therapy can be implemented in a number of different ways. It can involve talking-based approaches. For example, the therapy can be used in a one-to-one counseling session or a group counseling session.

The therapy may also involve electric shocks while the client is being shown homoerotic material. It sometimes involves the client being asked to imagine a homoerotic image that is sexually pleasurable to them and then at the same time being subjected to a second stimulus that is unpleasurable. For example, the pleasurable image may be paired with a stimulus that evokes terror or horror. Restraints and isolation can be used during reparative therapy. Exorcism may also form part of the intervention.

Does it work?

Many medical organizations have issued statements outlining the lack of evidence for reparative therapy. They have also identified the potential harmful effects of the therapy. Despite this some professionals and religious leaders continue to offer the therapy to adults and minors.

Its continued use is due, in part, to a study authored by Spitzer that was published in 2003. In this paper, Spitzer claimed that he presented evidence that reparative therapy could be used to change an individual’s sexual orientation from gay to straight.

In the video below, Rachel Maddow outlines the history of the development of reparative therapy.

However, more recently Spitzer has retracted this claim and he has offered an apology to the gay community for his study. In a video by Truth Wins Out, he said: “I have been thinking about the study for many years and gradually have come to the conclusion in that I was quite wrong in the conclusions that I made from the study. The study does not provide evidence really that gays can change….I had some doubts about the study but I didn’t want to face up to the fact that I needed to do something about it….”


Spitzer, R. Can Some Gay Men and Lesbians Change Their Sexual Orientation? 200 Participants Reporting a Change from Homosexual to Heterosexual Orientation. Archives of Sexual Behavior 2003:32(5):403-417.

Hein LC. Matthews AK. Reparative Therapy, The Adolescent, The Psych Nurse, and The Issues. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing 2010;23(1):29-35.

In the video below by Truth Wins Out, Spitzer shares his apology and admits that his claims were wrong. Truth Wins Out is a not-for-profit organization that fights against anti-gay religious extremism.

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