Sunday, May 20, 2012

Psychiatrist Robert Spitzer Issues Apology for "Treating" Homosexuality

Here's a story from the New York Times on psychiatrist Dr. Robert Spizter.  Dr. Spitzer is a well-known psychiatrist and an important figure in getting the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders--commonly referred to as the DSM and considered the bible of defining and classifying psychiatric behaviors--to change its definition of homosexuality from one of a mental disorder in need of repairing to a form of distress.  This was in the early 1970s and represented a major breakthrough for gay rights activists and civil rights activists across the country. There's an excellent podcast on how exactly this change happened and Spitzer's role in it from This American Life, called "81 Words."  Despite these changes Dr. Spitzer apparently published some work in 2003 advocating "reparative therapy" in which gay, distressed patients learn how to no longer be gay.  The research was questionable based on a number of methodological issues and an assumption that homosexuality is something out of the ordinary and therefore something to be cured rather than just representative of the variety of humanity.  In any event, Dr. Spitzer recently ushered an apology.  His reparative study was not only questionable science (as he himself noted) but also distressing and damaging to a number of patients who went through it (leading to depression and suicidal thoughts).  Further, conservatives used his research to justify denying civil unions and gay marriage both in the US and abroad.  This further frustrated Dr. Spitzer leading him to issue his apology.  Here's a draft of his letter.

Here's the podcast:

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