Psychiatrist Robert Spitzer Dies At 83, Led Drive To Declassify Homosexuality As Mental Illness

The man who convinced the APA to stop classifying homosexuality as a mental illness died on Friday at the age of 83. Via the Washington Post:

In the tumult of the 1960s, psychiatry found itself under siege. Critics said the field lacked scientific standards — failing to help many truly troubled people while medicating or institutionalizing others who suffered from nothing more serious than nonconformity.

As he sat listening to his patients talk through their problems, a fledgling Columbia University psychiatrist named Robert L. Spitzer was nagged by doubts, too. “I was always unsure that I was being helpful,” he told the New Yorker years later, “and I was uncomfortable with not knowing what to do with their messiness.” He struggled to find a place in his profession. He ended up transforming it.

Dr. Spitzer died Dec. 25 at 83 in Seattle of complications from heart disease, his wife, Janet Williams. He also had Parkinson’s disease. In his prime, he dove headfirst into one of the era’s most heated debates. He brokered the American Psychiatric Association’s landmark 1973 vote to stop treating homosexuality as an illness.

Then, taking the helm at the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders — regarded as the profession’s bible — he led an unprecedented push for uniform standards in an often ambiguous discipline.

But there was also a dark side to Spitzer’s career, one for which he later apologized.

He recruited 200 men and women, from the centers that were performing the (ex-gay) therapy, including Exodus International, based in Florida, and NARTH. He interviewed each in depth over the phone, asking about their sexual urges, feelings and behaviors before and after having the therapy, rating the answers on a scale.

He then compared the scores on this questionnaire, before and after therapy. “The majority of participants gave reports of change from a predominantly or exclusively homosexual orientation before therapy to a predominantly or exclusively heterosexual orientation in the past year,” his paper concluded.

The study — presented at a psychiatry meeting in 2001, before publication — immediately created a sensation, and ex-gay groups seized on it as solid evidence for their case. This was Spitzer, after all, the man who single-handedly removed homosexuality from the manual of mental disorders. No one could accuse him of bias. But gay leaders accused him of betrayal, and they had their reasons.

The study had serious problems. It was based on what people remembered feeling years before — an often fuzzy record. It included some ex-gay advocates, who were politically active. And it didn’t test any particular therapy; only half of the participants engaged with a therapist at all, while the others worked with pastoral counselors, or in independent Bible study.

Hit the second link to learn how Spitzer came to reject ex-gay bullshit.