Feb 28, 2014

    Sexual orientation: Know that there're choices

    I BELIEVE in offering individuals with same-sex attraction a choice. Why?

    As a psychologist working in a general practice, I have seen a range of clients struggling with issues of sexuality and identity. Some are youth, attending at their parents' request. Others are driven to "see someone" because they have failed to find answers on their own.

    The role of the therapist is not so much to provide immediate answers or to "tell you what to do". It is to help one understand and work out the answers for oneself.

    To this end, we identify issues, explore concerns, acknowledge feelings, discuss options and examine consequences. We might personally have an opinion about what would be "best" for our clients, but we remain clear that it is ultimately not our choice to make.

    Any therapy that insists on change and is forcibly imposed on the individual is clearly harmful.

    However, to deny even a possibility of change, particularly where change is desired, can be just as damaging.

    The move to legislate against the practice of "conversion therapy" - defined mainly by its end goal of change, rather than any specific methodology - for individuals under 18 in certain American states was ostensibly to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth.

    However, more than one commentator has noted that it leaves youth who are ambivalent about their sexual orientation without recourse, and any professional who even begins to enter into a discussion on alternatives to embracing one's same-sex attraction is at risk of prosecution.

    Psychotherapy is founded on the belief that change is possible, and that it is made possible through insight, understanding and the human ability to choose.

    The choice before individuals struggling with same-sex attraction is not so much to be gay or not gay, to have or not have certain feelings, but to decide what to do with the feelings that they do have.

    With the experiences of others as reference points, we in Singapore have the opportunity to more clearly define the rules of engagement to benefit those in need of help.

    An individual distressed by his or her sexual orientation deserves the right to know that there are choices, even as the difficulty - some would argue impossibility - of change needs to be spelt out.