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Struggling With Homosexuality

Sculpture of a therapy session with Sigmund Freud.

Sculpture of a therapy session with Sigmund Freud.
Photo Credit: R. Haworth

The interplay between Torah values and psychological/societal ethics has always been an interest of mine.  I find beauty in the challenge of trying to straddle the fence between the two worlds.    At one point in history, the field of psychology was dominated by Sigmund Freud’s (often considered to be the “father of psychology”) ideas of sexuality and determinism (technically, that we do not have free-will).  The world of Torah rejected most of Freud’s views and thus rejected most of the world of psychology.   Besides, the Torah world viewed most mental health issues as being Hashkafic or religious issues and so they were reticent towards sending people to therapists and not Rabbonim to deal with issues.

But the divide between psychology and Torah was not only because the Torah world rejected psychology.  Oh no, psychology had very few pleasant things to say about religion in the early days.  Although Jewish, Freud rejected religion as being a form of neurosis (or a mental disorder) for most of his life.  Many psychologists in the early and mid-twentieth century (and some until today) often tried convincing their patients that religion was either a symptom of a mental disorder or a major contributor to their mental health problems.

Boruch Hashem we live in a world where the field of mental health is much more congruous with Torah.  The last fifteen years has seen an explosion of frum mental health professionals.  There are therapists who work across the spectrum of frumkeit and there are Rabbonim in all communities who refer their constituents to therapists when needed.

However, there continue to be issues in the mental health world that challenge frumkeit.  The current most publicized controversial topic is how we as a community handle situations of child molestation.  Licensed mental health professionals have a legal obligation to report situations of abuse to the authorities.   Mental health professionals usually advocate this point of view.  Many Rabonnim and frum institutions do not agree that this it is right to report these allegations to the secular authorities and, at the very least, limit reporting in some way due to socio-religious values.

Another very sensitive topic where modern psychological thinking conflicts with Torah views is the issue of homosexuality.  The Gemarah in Kiddushin (82a) indicates that homosexuality is not something that Jews have to deal with because “Jews are not suspect to be homosexual”.  In fact the Rambam (Issurei Biah 22:2) uses this Gemarah as a basis for a Halachik ruling.

On the other hand, Freud has suggested that all people, by nature, are created with some inherent homosexual desire. The world today is filled with gay rights activists (many of them mental health professionals), frum ones as well.  So, how do we understand this Gemara and Rambam in the light of the many people who present to therapy struggling with this issue?  How to understand the divide between the Torah’s values and what the secular world suggests, quite vehemently, as being the only way to look at things?  It is an issue that unfortunately causes so much pain and suffering in our community and is often completely misunderstood by many people.  More significantly, it is an issue that is being raised more frequently in mine and my colleague’s offices.   In writing this article, I hope to raise awareness that therapy can help people who struggle with homosexuality.

While I do not work solely with people who struggle with homosexuality, the following are some vignettes of the types of situations that present themselves in my office.  I have fabricated these cases to protect the anonymity of the people I actually work with but they accurately reflect the content of my work.  Shloimy is a 16-year-old boy who was found to be acting on his desires with a peer in Yeshivah.  He has been admonished by the Mashgiach in the past but this has not stopped Shloimy’s behavior.  The Mashgiach has involved Shloimy’s parents and suggested that Shloimy discuss things with a therapist to help him better understand his sexuality.  Shloimy agrees.

Dovid is a 25-year-old Yeshiva bochur learning in a prominent Yeshivish Yeshiva.  He has been going out on Shidduch dates with different women for the last two years.  He has recently told his Rosh Hayeshiva that his anxiety connected to dating has to do with his years of confusion about his sexual attraction to other men.  Although Dovid has rarely acted on these desires, the sheer fact that he has them causes him significant uncomfortability, you see- Dovid has no feelings of attraction to women.

Michael is 23 and is graduating from Queens College in a half a year with a degree in accounting.  He finds himself attracted to both men and women.  Confused by messages from the larger culture vis-a-vis the Torah culture of marriage and living a Halachik lifestyle, he is ultimately unsure of where his life will end up.  He comes to therapy to help make heads and tails of his life.

Yanky is a 38-year-old Chassidishe man married with 8 children.  He has a successful business and a nice family but he has been exhibiting symptoms of depression for many years.  Two nights ago Yanky’s wife discovered that he has been visiting adult websites and acting on these desires with other men.  Yanky calls to make an appointment to discuss after his wife told him that he must get help.

Homosexuality is a very politically charged topic.  I do not wish to enter the fray (although I am aware that this might be an example of me doing so).  I am only reporting on what research I’ve done, what I have seen in my office as well what colleagues of mine have shared with me.   I wish to raise awareness about the very real pain that people struggle with and the fact that the right therapist can be a very significant resource.  At the very least a therapist can be there to support you through your struggle.  More importantly, people can and do significantly reduce or completely eliminate homosexual desires.  People who have been able to do this in therapy can go on and lead healthy and normal lives with families and Torah values.  My point is that there is help in our frum world for people who struggle with confusion about their sexuality.    It is a service that at least a few competent therapists in New York provide.

Hashem gives us all struggles; to know what He wants from us in that struggle is sometimes quite difficult.  But know, for every ounce of pain or struggle there is a Refuah.  Sometimes that Refuah is learning to accept what Hashem deals us in life and sometime the Refuah is to change where or we think we are.  Whatever the case, seek out a therapist who is knowledgeable about the issues you struggle with and begin travelling down the road to happiness.  A wise man once said that pain is inevitable but suffering is optional (suffering being the inability to cope with the pain).  Therapy is about choosing to stop the suffering.   May Hashem bless all of us with happiness and with the coming of Moshiach when we will all experience the true clarity and of who we are as Hashem intended us to be.

About the Author: Yitzi Horowitz, LCSW maintains a private practice in Brooklyn providing psychotherapy to frum men and women from all walks of life. Among many other things he works with men struggling with Homosexuality/SSA. He can be reached by calling 347-809-0991 or by emailing yitzihorowitz@gmail.com.


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9 Responses to “Struggling With Homosexuality”

  1. Ethan Perks says:

    I suspect that such behavour was largely surpressed in the closely knit communities of that time, and and such behavour surpressed. Or else people left the community.

  2. Yitzi-I have concerns about your statement.

    "More importantly, people can and do significantly reduce or completely eliminate homosexual desires. "

    It sound to me that you are an advocate or conversion on reparative therapy.

    I am aware that some Rabbis have signed on to such a view in their Torah Declaration, and you are aware that other Rabbis such as the RCA refuse to.
    sign on because of the consensus among mental health groups that it is not effective and that it can harm the patient.

    I believe that if you are practicing this kind of therapy you are not only wasting the patient's time and money, you are also violating the principle of doing no harm.
    I am especially concerned that you are advocating this kind of therapy for children. California is about to make this illegal to protect children from this abuse.

    When parents spend their money for this type of therapy their expectation is that their child will be cured of homosexuality and become straight.

    The problem with this is that this is really just an illusion and not true.
    http://bit.ly/Jck4ZV
    All research is suggesting that people change their behavior and their values. There is no indication that the very basic desires to change as the result of the therapy.
    There are statements from all major mental health groups, based on scientific studies, that show that most people who undergo this therapy have a loss in their mental health and that there is no evidence that it is effective in changing attracions.

    The motivation to change are usually rooted in both religious and familial views of homosexuality.
    as both sinful and a mental illness. Often the parents are pressuring therapy that is unwanted by the child.

    The same people who would be willing to waive the prohibited behavior, often also would love to believe that they can actually "convert" not only the lifestyle, but the real attractions completely. They end up discovering later that this approach is not the case and are devastated. This results in some cases of suicide and leaving the faith.

    Besides all the mainstream psychiatric, psychological work, social, the World Health Organization advisory groups and even many experts among people who have been involved in "reparative therapy" mostly agree that it does not work in shifting the attractions.

    According to those who believe such conversions, the success rate is about 0.4%.
    http://www.religioustolerance.org.

    Warren Throckmorton, a psychologist and professor at the evangelical Grove City College recently surveyed 239 men in the "mixed orientation marriages" in which her husband is attracted to other men and women is heterosexual. About half of the males had been through a conversion therapy.

    Throughout their marriage, men, "same sex attractions increased…" and "attractions for your spouse declined," according to Throckmorton.

    Another study by Mark Yarhouse, a researcher at Regent University – which was founded by Pat Robertson – reached the same conclusion.

    The leader of the Exodus, the largest audience of people (thousands) that changed from a gay to the heterosexual lifestyle admits that this does not include the end of same-sex attraction for 99.9% of the group.
    "There was a change in our beliefs about therapy focused change orientation and do not believe that it is effective."

    But organized groups are still motivated either by profit or religious dogmas to sell this quackery.

    many of it's most famous advocates have been caught in deceit or exploitation of various sorts.

    Becase this core premise of conversion therapy is so ludicrous, even Arthur Goldberg of Jonah, who was previously imprisoned for major fraud, says "JONAH rejects so-called "conversion therapies that…"
    (Unfortunately and not surprisingly, he continues with it. He is pretending that shame is not an element of this approach).

    Dr. Nicholosi who is the father of repartive therapy and quoted here in support of it, also has previously admitted that his patients do not loose their same sex attractions.

    It seems that most of the tiny group of people that say they have achieved this conversion are also in the conversion business, like David Pickup.

    Is this position in conflict with religion?

    A minor with religious conflicts about homosexuality that believes he would like to become straight is faced with an extreme dilemma. There really is nothing he can do be it therapy or prayer that will achieve this goal.

    But the minor with a religious conflict about homosexuality that understands that his sexual orientation will not change can from this objective ground become abstinent from sex. As I have pointed out above, reparative conversion type therapy is completely inapropriate to facilatate this goal.

    Other therapies, such as SIT, work on helping the patient to change their sexual behaviors while accepting they will not be able to change their attractions.

    After success with such an effort over a number of years such a person could decide if they want to also be part of a mixed orientation marriage. This would also be motivated by religious reasons.

    Evidence shows that such a decision is not likely to succeed and is likely to cause much heartache to their partners, but that is another discussion. See http://www.ssnetwk.org/

    As with the goal of celibacy being honest and accepting of one's attractions to oneself and to your potential spouse help such an arrangement. But as the studies , I have quoted above those who have worked to repress their attractions will inevitably have them come back stronger, and so it makes sense that only those that can adjust to such a challenge in the first place will have more chance for success.

    Most Orthodox Rabbis believe that only same sex sexual behavior is prohibited, not orientation or attractions.. Many articles in evangelical journals are now questioning reparative therapy.

    Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al Mohler.
    “We understand that sexual attraction and a profile of someone’s sexuality is a complex of factors, some of which are certainly not chosen,” he continued. “It’s not just a matter of choice. It’s not something that’s turned on or turned off.”.

    Of course there are other religions that don't view homosexuality as wrong at all. They support gays and tend to believe that the Bible should be a vehicle for love not a weapon. religious texts have been used in the past to justify attitudes and laws that are recognized today as morally wrong and unjust – such as discrimination against women, people of color and religious minorities.

    Dr. Spitzer
    "If people can recognize that being gay is something that can not be changed and that efforts to change will be disappointing and may be harmful if it can be more widely known it would be great."

    Without clear evidence that a treatment is effective it can not in good conscience, recommend an unproven treatment that can cause undo pain, suffering and death.

  3. Timothy Kincaid says:

    I appreciate the author's sympathy. However, research into the mutability of sexual attractions shows that it is not true that "people can and do significantly reduce or completely eliminate homosexual desires".

    The study over a seven year period looked at Christian efforts to change orientation. It simply didn't happen. And so earlier this year the Christian ex-gay organization Exodus International, gave up on changing orientation and now focuses on living a holy life while continuing to have same-sex attractions.

    It could be that Jews have a unique response to therapy and that, unlike Christians, their orientation is mutable. But I very very much doubt it.

  4. I wanted to add another voice to the many I quoted against your support of conversion therapy and the claim that you can offer complete elimination of same sex attraction to your patients.

    Dr Abba Borowich practiced reparative-conversion therapy for 30 years as an Orhodox therapist treating Orthodox patients. I think he may have more actual experience than you do.

    Dr. Abba E. Borowich, an Orthodox therapist who is the founder of the Mesorah Society for Traditional Judaism and Psychiatry and an advisor to the Rabbinical.
    Council of America and Yeshivah University.
    In a letter co-signed with another Orthodox therapist, Naomi S. Mark, Dr. Borowich wrote,
    As therapists, we see the pain and fall-out of many of these marriages when often, years later, there is a regression to homosexuality despite a.
    sincere attempt at heterosexual adaptation. Situations like these can have disastrous consequences for the spouses, the children and, of course,
    the individuals themselves. The fact that there are no long term follow-up studies that confirm the "success" of conversion therapy argues against.
    guiding susceptible individuals towards this treatment. Perhaps change is possible, but it remains unclear that there is a technique that works.
    repeatedly in a manner that can be reproduced. What is clear is that there are terrible consequences for people who are misled.

    so please stop misleading people about eliminating gay sexual orientation.

  5. Charlie Hall says:

    " Licensed mental health professionals have a legal obligation to report situations of abuse to the authorities. Mental health professionals usually advocate this point of view. Many Rabonnim and frum institutions do not agree that this it is right to report these allegations to the secular authorities and, at the very least, limit reporting in some way due to socio-religious values."

    If your rabbi holds that you can not fulfill your legal obligation as a licensed professional to report situations of abuse, you must do one of two things:

    (1) Give up for license and do something else for a living, or.

    (2) Get another rabbi, one who holds that you must report (and there are plenty who hold that way).

  6. Charlie Hall says:

    "I am only reporting on what research I’ve done".

    What human subjects ethics review panel approved the research protocol?

    "people can and do significantly reduce or completely eliminate homosexual desires".

    Please cite the reference in a peer-reviewed scientific journal that shows this to be true. I am unaware of any reasonably sized properly controlled study that has shown this. The actual data show no real evidence that "conversion therapy" works and there is at least anecdotal evidence that it can cause harm to some.

    Unless you can show that such a study showing the efficacy of conversion therapy exists, you are promoting junk science.

  7. Agreed! It's wishful thinking, at best.

  8. Stewart Nasar says:

    TRASH

  9. Zachary Kessin says:

    But if we want something hard enough it will always happen right? (Off to go buy those lotto ticket now, ok not really)

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Sculpture of a therapy session with Sigmund Freud.

The Gemarah in Kiddushin (82a) indicates that homosexuality is not something that Jews have to deal with because “Jews are not suspect to be homosexual”. In fact the Rambam (Issurei Biah 22:2) uses this Gemarah as a basis for a Halachik ruling. So, how do we understand this Gemara and Rambam in the light of the many people who present to therapy struggling with this issue?

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