Academic journal article American Journal of Psychotherapy

Does Psychoanalysis Really Mean Oppression? Harnessing Psychodynamic Approaches to Affirmative Therapy with Gay Men

Academic journal article American Journal of Psychotherapy

Does Psychoanalysis Really Mean Oppression? Harnessing Psychodynamic Approaches to Affirmative Therapy with Gay Men

Article excerpt

Freud's attitude toward homosexuals was overwhelmingly progressive for his time. In contrast, during the early forties, psychoanalysis began to adopt a more pessimistic view about the mental health of homosexuals. This article describes a psychodynamic model of affirmative psychotherapy for gay men. Special note is made of the clinical issues, which arise from antihomosexual attitudes that influence the psychological development of the homosexual male. In particular, the way in which identity formation is affected by heterosexual socialization is discussed. The psychotherapeutic implications associated with these developmental complications are pointed out as well.


In the past, psychoanalysis has had a reputation for helping homosexual men and women by attempting to change their sexual orientation to heterosexuality. These attempts were based on a theoretical conception of homosexuality as inevitably pathological and, therefore, in need of change. In contrast to Freud's view (1), according to which homosexual drives are universal, the psychoanalytic establishment considered homosexuality as an escape from heterosexuality, which is not in accord with mental health (2). The purpose of this paper is to show how a psychoanalytical approach may help homosexual clients to accept themselves and hence to refute the conception that psychoanalysis is an oppressive force, as being perceived by many homosexual therapists (3) as well as clients.

Most therapists who treat gay clients are well familiar with Freud's "Letter to an American Mother" of 1935, saying:

Dear Mrs. . . .

I gather from your letter that your son is a homosexual. I am most impressed by the fact that you do not mention this term yourself in your information about him. May I question you, why you avoid it? Homosexuality is assuredly no advantage, but it is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation, it cannot be classified as an illness; we consider it to be a variation of the sexual function produced by a certain arrest of sexual development. Many highly respectable individuals of ancient and modern times have been homosexuals, several of the greatest men among them (Plato, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, etc.). It is a great injustice to persecute homosexuality as a crime, and cruelty too. If you do not believe me, read the books of Havelock Ellis.

By asking me if I can help, you mean, I suppose, if I can abolish homosexuality and make normal heterosexuality take its place. The answer is, in a general way, we cannot promise to achieve it. In a certain number of cases we succeed in developing the blighted germs of heterosexual tendencies, which are present in every homosexual, in the majority of cases it is no more possible. It is a question of the quality and the age of the individual. The result of treatment cannot be predicted.

What analysis can do for your son runs in a different line. If he is unhappy, neurotic, torn by conflicts, inhibited in his social life, analysis may bring him harmony, peace of mind, full efficiency whether he remains a homosexual or gets changed. . .

Sincerely yours with kind wishes,

Freud. (1)

The contradictions in his voluminous works make Freud's position opaque to the casual, modern reader. "Attempts to find 'the real Freud' are too often motivated by those who seek his agreement with their own point of view. . . . Taken out of the historical context in which he wrote, and depending upon the author's selective citations, Freud can be portrayed as either virulently antihomosexual . . . or as a close friend of gays" (4, p. 21). Rado (2), Bieber et al. (5), and Socarides (6) claimed that homosexuality is to be found only in individuals, whose heterosexuals drives are threatening, and, therefore, does not parallel mental health. They emphasized the role of very pathological relationships between parents and children. …

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