If you follow news about the LGBT movement, you may have heard that there are major efforts underway to ban “conversion therapy.”

There are a number of serious problems with this effort—one of which is that no one who engages in the process of helping people overcome unwanted same-sex attractions refers to it as “conversion therapy.” The use of such an outdated term is proof that critics of change therapy are completely out of touch with (or deliberately distorting) what it actually entails.

Other terms that are sometimes used by therapists or counselors involved in helping people with unwanted SSA are “sexual reorientation therapy,” “reparative therapy” (which is not a general term but a very specific approach), or “sexual orientation change efforts” (“SOCE”—a broader term that may include either professional therapy or religious support or counseling).

These terms, while more accurate than “conversion therapy,” have their own weaknesses, however—particularly in a climate of vicious and distorted attacks upon both the purposes and the methodologies of such counseling.

The Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity (formerly the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality) is the leading scientific organization representing professional therapists committed to helping clients with unwanted SSA achieve their goals. The Alliance, which recently held its annual conference in Dallas, has coined a new term to overcome some of the weaknesses and distortions of older labels.

The new term is Sexual Attraction Fluidity Exploration in Therapy—or “SAFE-T” for short. Christopher Rosik, Ph.D., issued a statement explaining some of the rationale (I have added the bullet points, and my own comments are in brackets):

  • [The term SAFE-T] does not imply that categorical change is the goal and in so doing create unrealistic expectations for many clients.
  • Nor does it imply that change which is less than categorical in nature cannot be meaningful and satisfying to clients.
  • It also makes clear that SAFE can occur in any number of therapeutic modalities. [In other words, this is not a distinctive type of therapy at all, but rather a goal or topic that can be pursued using a range of therapy types.]
  • Furthermore, by focusing on sexual attractions it avoids the implicit assertion that orientation changes or that orientation as an immutable reality even exists. [I have noted that “sexual orientation” is a vague term that, depending on the context, is sometimes used to refer to sexual attractions, behaviors, self-identification, or some combination of the three. It is more meaningful to address these elements separately.]
  • By stressing therapeutic exploration, the new term accurately conveys that the therapist is not being coercive but merely assisting individuals in a client-centered examination of their sexual attractions.
  • ... [T]he acronym SAFE-T immediately challenges portrayals of the professional therapy utilized by Alliance clinicians as harmful.

Rosik further notes:

Scientifically, the fluidity of sexual orientation (and, for our purposes, especially same-sex attractions) for many men and women is now beyond question. The language of SAFE-T highlights this reality and points to human experience that cannot be denied...

Rosik cites, for example, a recent (May-June 2016) journal article by LGBT-affirming scholars Lisa Diamond and Clifford Rosky which declared that “arguments based on the immutability of sexual orientation are unscientific, given what we now know from longitudinal, population-based studies of naturally occurring changes in the same-sex attractions of some individuals over time.”

The “SAFE-T” term has already been attacked in the Huffington Post, but the writer (therapist Michael J. Salas) is still under the sway of serious misconceptions about it—such as the idea that “SAFE-T promotes shame.” Every SAFE therapist I have ever talked to said their clients come into therapy with “shame,” and one goal of therapy is to overcome that. Salas, on the other hand, describes the goal of pro-homosexual “affirming” therapy as “accepting grief, fear, and shame”! While Salas claims that “affirming therapy has no agenda” and merely “helps people work through incongruence,” it is clear that he views reducing homosexual attractions or behavior as an unacceptable goal and probably an undesirable outcome.

That limitation on client autonomy sounds like an “agenda” to me.