COLF seminar highlights chastity-focused therapy for same-sex attraction
By Deborah Gyapong
Photo caption: Michael Horne, director of clinical services for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia. (Deborah Gyapong)
Chastity-focused therapy is the best way to treat same-sex attraction, says an American psychologist.
At the heart of gender confusion and same-sex attraction is a “lack of a clear sense of self, a lack of understanding of how we are made in the image and likeness of God,” said Michael Horne, director of clinical services for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia.
He was speaking the Catholic Organization for Life and Family’s annual seminar March 30-31.
Usually there are “interpersonal wounds at play, often from very early in life,” coupled with a “sense of rejection, that I am unworthy of love.”
Chastity-focused therapy does not involve trying to change a person’s sexual orientation, nor is it “reparative therapy,” or “gay affirmative therapy,” he said. Instead, it involves a “genuine encounter with another person.”
In it the therapist “is very involved, completely accepting of the true person,” seeing the person as a “child of God,” he said. Treatment also uses “cognitive behaviour therapy to challenge negative behaviour and thought processes.”
“An authentically Catholic approach to mental health is flourishing, a ‘freedom for,’ to move closer to God,” he said. It involves “an encounter through a gift of self.”
“The secular approach is ‘freedom from’” – from problems and from guilt, he said.
Same-sex attraction, a form of gender dysfunction, “moves away from God’s design, our creation as male and female,” he said. He uses the words “same-sex attraction” because the Church teaches people “should not be encouraged to define themselves according to their attractions.”
“We must separate the person, the inclination and the act,” he said, noting only the acts are sinful.
There is “clear controversy around change therapy” that aims to switch attraction from “group A” to “group B,” he said. Focusing on chastity means focusing on living according to the Church’s teachings and growing closer to Christ.
“All of us are called to chastity; married people are called to chastity,” he said.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, chastity is “the successful integration of sexuality within a person,” he said. The Catechism says “Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom.”
Chastity is not abstinence, Horne said. It’s a “move from continence to interior chastity of the heart.”
“What we really want in any sort of change therapy is changing the way they see themselves,” he said. This means examining how they see themselves and find their self-worth.
“Moving towards chastity is a key of salvation,” he said. Some people with same-sex attraction have never found the opposite sex attractive and do not want to be forced into marriage.
Some good Catholic men who have experienced same-sex attraction have thought getting married might help as they try to change things on their own, Horne said. They have children and eventually their struggle impacts others’ lives.
Horne said he supported the goals of Courage International, a Catholic apostolate that supports men and women with same-sex attraction in living chastely. Some might experience a change in orientation, he said, but those who don’t can nevertheless find joy and freedom in more closely following Christ.
Horne advised always keeping relationships open with friends and loved ones who experience same-sex attraction. “You can accept the person, love the person without condoning the behaviour.”