Northern Ireland health chief, homosexuality an illness

Homosexuality is a mental illness, at least according to the head of Northern Ireland’s health committee. Iris Robinson MP, who, with impeccable timing, put forth her views on a radio show while responding to the news that a local man had been badly beaten in a homophobic attack.

After apparently branding homosexuality as “disgusting, loathsome, nauseating, wicked and vile” she went on to recommend that “I have a very lovely psychiatrist who works with me in my offices and his Christian background is that he tries to help homosexuals – trying to turn away from what they are engaged in”.

The “lovely psychiatrist” turns out to be Paul Miller who doesn’t actually seem to defend the idea that homosexuality is a mental illness but does seem to have a sideline in assisting people to change their sexual orientation.

In a recent newspaper article Miller claims this is based on research:

Dr Miller cited a study by American psychiatrists Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse which he said concluded that people can change sexual orientation and that the process of change was not damaging.

“That was a very robust study because in the past, and rightly so, people who worked in this field were criticised for not having robust research.”

So what is this research Miller talks about? A randomised controlled trial from the peer-review medical literature? A meta-analysis of past treatment programmes? Perhaps just an exploratory outcome study?

No, it’s a book released by a Christian publisher and written by a psychologist and psychiatrist employed by a private evangelical college in the States.

In a subsequent BBC interview on her comments, Mrs Robinson well, just keeps on digging.

For those of you interested in the new fangled practice of ‘evidence based medicine’ that seems not to have caught up with Iris Robinson, one of the most influential studies on the mental health of homosexuals was published in 1957.

Conducted by psychologist Evelyn Hooker, it used several measures to profile a group of homosexual and heterosexual males and asked a number of psychiatrists to determine who was gay and straight just by looking at the data from the mental health assessments.

They couldn’t, and two thirds of both of gay and straight samples were rated as well-adjusted. This was the first of many studies that showed that there is nothing innately psychopathological about homosexuality.

Link to Petra Boyton with some good coverage.
Link to full text of Evelyn Hooker’s 1957 study.

10 thoughts on “Northern Ireland health chief, homosexuality an illness”

  1. I wouldn’t expect that sexual orientation would lead to diagnosable psychopathology. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I suppose little mainstream research is conducted nowadays on the possible psychopathology of homosexuality. Seems like a forbidden zone which would render an academic without research funding and uninvited to cocktail parties.
    It seems to me that this yet another stupid polarity of the ongoing culture wars, with Iris Robinson and her “stupid, loathsome” words of incitement on one side, and those who insist that as soon as one “discovers” he or she is gay, that the discovery is a priori healthy and to be encouraged.
    Many exhibit fluctuations in their sexual behavior. Unless we assume that in every individual, a binary hetero/homo orientation is genetically locked in at birth, then it would be reasonable to look at the variety of environmental, socio-cultural, and even political causes and choices which affect this behavior.
    Clearly the science of psychology is helpful to decisions on this topic, but it is not privileged with the role of final arbiter on what in many aspects is a cultural and political issue to be considered by the public at large.
    In my personal opinion, there do exist cases of people who haven chosen homosexuality of reasons that are not fundamentally healthy (and perhaps vice-versa). This is not to say that all homosexuality is unhealthy, but only to point out that the issue is not as black & white as the politics are. Alas I do not have a string of peer-reviewed studies to support my every opinion, but I do expect the young science of psychology to reveal a more nuanced picture over upcoming decades, provided sufficient freedom from political pressures on both sides.

  2. Hi there, I am going to correct you I’m afraid as a great deal of mainstream research is conducted on psychopathology and homosexuality. There is a good recent review here:
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17716060
    Some studies find that homosexual people, on average, are slightly more likely to experience mental illness (particularly anxiety and depression) than the non-homosexual population. Other studies have found that this effect disappears when other potential explanatory variables are controlled for.
    However, you are confusing two issues. Whether homosexuality is associated with mental illness, and whether it is, by definition, a mental illness.
    The importance of these studies is that they show, unequivocally, that is is possible to be gay and no more distressed or impaired than someone who is straight. As the definition of mental illness encompasses the need to be distressed or impaired, this shows that it is possible to be perfectly mentally health and gay. Therefore, homosexuality is not, in itself, a mental illness.
    Sadly, both being part of a visible minority in a wider community and discrimination are linked to higher rates of mental disorder, which undoubtedly explains the small statistical difference in mental distress between gay and straight people.
    However, you are right about the fallacy of the binary distinction between ‘gay’ and ‘straight’. While the majority of people are exclusively same-sex or different-sex focused in their sexual activity, a significant minority of people do not adequately fall into either category, either in terms of their sexual activity or desires.

  3. Ive had friends that were homosexuals and noticed a lot of mental illnesses they had which contributed to them claiming to be homosexuals. Though the events were emotionally damaging they just see them as normal. But they could obviously be seen that they were not.

  4. Vaughan:
    Forgive me but I cannot but help notice your disguised sneer at matters Christian.
    Your criticism of Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse is otherwise feeble and off the mark.
    Instead, you point to ‘one of the most influential studies on the mental health of homosexuals…’
    Here you refer to the significantly flawed study that has by now been discredited – the Evelyin Hooker study.
    If you give less credence to research that is supported by Christians, may I ask if, I, as an agnostic, should give less credence to research that is supported by homosexuals?
    I suspect you are gay, which accounts for your prejudical assessment.

  5. Hi Tee,
    I make no sneer, disguised or otherwise, at matters Christian. If you look, you’ll see I mention the Hooker study as the first of many studies from the following 50+ years, which are summarised in the review paper mentioned above.
    You’ll also note that all of this research is published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. The Jones and Yarhouse book is not, and, therefore, cannot be said to be as scientifically robust.
    The credence you give to scientific research should not be based on the beliefs of the authors, but on the process through which it has been verified. This is particularly important when there is a potential conflict of interest.
    I therefore suspect you are not familiar with the scientific method, which accounts for your prejudical assessment.

  6. Agh! So you are gay!
    This explains your enthusiasim for the flawed study by Hooker.
    Indeed, your reference to http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17716060
    goes no way to demonstrates that a “…great deal of mainstream research” validates your opinion.
    It most certainly does not.
    Herek, for example, is a homosexual academic who has largely concentrated on alleged heterosexual ‘homophobia’. I suspect that Garnets is also gay. Their studies reflect an apologetic or sympathetic strain of study which is overtly in favour of homosexuality.
    Outside of homosexual circles such research carries little academic weight.
    As for Mrs Robinson, she is just as entitled to say homosexuality is an abomination as those who claim it is normal and healthy.
    Indeed, since both science and history undermine any homosexual claim for normality, it has to be conceded that the spritual and moral dysfunction to which Robinson alludes is of greater significance.

  7. Is that is then?
    What an ending – now you slight my comprehension.
    Look – this is what you what you said in counter-claim against Christian based statements and study of homosexuality.
    “For those of you interested in the new fangled practice of ‘evidence based medicine’ that seems not to have caught up with Iris Robinson, one of the most influential studies on the mental health of homosexuals was published in 1957.
    Conducted by psychologist Evelyn Hooker, it used several measures to profile a group of homosexual and heterosexual males and asked a number of psychiatrists to determine who was gay and straight just by looking at the data from the mental health assessments.
    They couldn’t, and two thirds of both of gay and straight samples were rated as well-adjusted. This was the first of many studies that showed that there is nothing innately psychopathological about homosexuality.”
    Yes this was “…one of the most influential studies” but it is mostly confined to the homosexual community.
    Mainstream science has rejected Hooker’s study, so why don’t you?

  8. Is that is then?
    What an ending – now you slight my comprehension.
    Look – this is what you what you said in counter-claim against Christian based statements and study of homosexuality.
    “For those of you interested in the new fangled practice of ‘evidence based medicine’ that seems not to have caught up with Iris Robinson, one of the most influential studies on the mental health of homosexuals was published in 1957.
    Conducted by psychologist Evelyn Hooker, it used several measures to profile a group of homosexual and heterosexual males and asked a number of psychiatrists to determine who was gay and straight just by looking at the data from the mental health assessments.
    They couldn’t, and two thirds of both of gay and straight samples were rated as well-adjusted. This was the first of many studies that showed that there is nothing innately psychopathological about homosexuality.”
    Yes this was “…one of the most influential studies” but it is mostly confined to the homosexual community.
    Mainstream science has rejected Hooker’s study, so why don’t you?

  9. Is that is then?
    What an ending – now you slight my comprehension.
    Look – this is what you what you said in counter-claim against Christian based statements and study of homosexuality.
    “For those of you interested in the new fangled practice of ‘evidence based medicine’ that seems not to have caught up with Iris Robinson, one of the most influential studies on the mental health of homosexuals was published in 1957.
    Conducted by psychologist Evelyn Hooker, it used several measures to profile a group of homosexual and heterosexual males and asked a number of psychiatrists to determine who was gay and straight just by looking at the data from the mental health assessments.
    They couldn’t, and two thirds of both of gay and straight samples were rated as well-adjusted. This was the first of many studies that showed that there is nothing innately psychopathological about homosexuality.”
    Yes this was “…one of the most influential studies” but it is mostly confined to the homosexual community.
    Mainstream science has rejected Hooker’s study, so why don’t you?

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