Robert L. Spitzer argued in 1973 that homosexuality is not a clinical disorder—key to the American Psychiatric Association arriving at the same conclusion. Thirty years later, Spitzer caused another stir when he argued that some people who want to change their homosexual orientation may do so (Archives of Sexual Behavior, October 2003).

Spitzer is professor of psychiatry at Columbia University and chief of the New York State Psychiatric Institute's Biometrics Research Department. He describes himself as a Jewish atheist. Contributing editor Douglas LeBlanc interviewed Spitzer by phone.

What prompted you to do a study on reparative therapy for gays?

I was at an annual APA (American Psychiatric Association) meeting, where I spoke to some ex-gays who were picketing the meeting. They explained how they had changed. And that got me interested. Then I tried to organize a debate on the issue. When I was organizing the debate, it became clear that many of the people that I wanted to participate said there are really no good studies of this, it's all going to be just opinions.

Did anything surprise you as you did your interviews?

I guess it surprised me how convincing the accounts were. Joseph Nicolosi [of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality] agreed to refer, I think, 10 or 20 patients to me. But he insisted on getting a summary of the results before going further. He didn't want to be set up, I guess. But from the very first people that I talked to, I had the feeling they were talking about something real.

What stood out for you as something that made the patients convincing?

You talk to people and you get a sense of whether they're being candid or not. I had the sense that they were. Also, there ...

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