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Sexual Identity and Faith

Helping Clients Find Congruence

Mark A. Yarhouse

Christians who struggle with a conflict between their sexual and religious identities have few therapeutic options available to them. ‘Sexual orientation change efforts’ (SOCE) have rightly fallen out of favor and are no longer practiced by most clinicians. At the same time, the common approach of gay affirmative therapy (GAT) can at times present challenges and may not be a good fit when clients hold to conventional religious beliefs and values.

An alternative to these methods is Sexual Identity Therapy (SIT)—an approach that aims to provide individuals with a safe therapeutic space to explore the tension between their sexuality and their faith. Working within the SIT framework, clients are able to resolve their inner conflict to their personal satisfaction and to freely choose a coherent identity that enables them to move forward in life.

SIT has several stages, each designed to enable the client to make meaning out of his or her same-sex sexuality. At no point in the process is the client encouraged to choose one sexual identity over another. The ultimate goal of SIT is congruence. Congruence is achieved when a person freely adopts an identity and lives it out in ways that are in keeping with his or her beliefs and values. The SIT model is brought to life throughout the book with the help of case studies drawn from the author’s 20 years of experience.

Written for both Christian and non-religious clinicians, Sexual Identity and Faith is an informed, respectful, and nuanced guide to help people navigate the difficult conflict between who they are sexually and what they believe religiously. 

Preface / ix Part One: Overview of Sexual Identity Therapy

Chapter 1: Religious Identity and Sexual Identity in Therapy / 3

Chapter 2: Assessment / 17
Chapter 3: Discussing Sexual Identity Therapy with Clients / 37

Part Two: Therapy Tools

Chapter 4: A Three-Tier Distinction / 59

Chapter 5: Weighted Aspects of Identity / 69

Chapter 6: Joining Clients on an Attributional Search for Identity / 79

Chapter 7: Identifying Dominant Narratives / 93

Chapter 8: Identifying Proscriptive and Prescriptive Constraints / 103

Chapter 9: Interviewing the Concern / 113

Chapter 10: Recognizing Counternarratives / 117

Chapter 11: Chapters in One’s Life / 123

Chapter 12: Congruence / 133

Part Three: Marriage & Family Therapy: Applying SIT to Specific Groups

Chapter 13: Mixed-Orientation Couples / 145

Chapter 14: When Youth Come Out: Working with Christian Parents / 169

Appendix A: The Sexual Identity Therapy Framework / 181

Appendix B: A Case Study of Sexual Identity Therapy / 201

Appendix C: A Case Study of a Mixed-Orientation Couple / 217

Appendix D: A Case Study of an Adolescent and Family Therapy / 227

Notes / 235

References / 237

Index / 251

Sexual Identity and Faith offers the most compassionate ‘third way’ of clinical care for those who want to mature in their sexual and religious/spiritual identities.  A valuable voice in the polarizing cultural discussion that often advocates for either sexual orientation change or affirmation, Mark Yarhouse provides an approach that does not indoctrinate but instead invites clients to craft a life that honors their values, beliefs, and experience.  This book should be a training resource for all professional caregivers who want to be culturally competent, intellectually humble, religiously consistent, and spiritually attuned.”

Stephen P. Stratton, professor of counseling and pastoral care, Asbury Theological Seminary

"Yarhouse provides a compassionate alternative to conversion therapy for those who struggle to live by conservative religious values while dealing with their same-sex sexual feelings and orientation.”

Judith Glassgold, PsyD, part-time lecturer, Rutgers University Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology

“This is a very important resource for those who provide help to the spectrum of sexual and faith minorities. Yarhouse, in plain language, shares what he has been developing these many years of bridge-building, understanding, affirming, and respecting sexual identity and faith. This guidebook is designed to develop self-awareness, knowledge, and skills for working with a broad range of clients to facilitate their identity exploration and development. The descriptive case examples were very helpful in applying these skills, especially in seeing options for mixed-orientation couples and teenagers coming out to family members.”

Lee Beckstead, PhD, counseling psychologist

Sexual Identity and Faith is the clearest exposition yet of the contours of ‘Sexual Identity Therapy’ and can successfully inform clinicians in guiding clients to sort out the dissonance between their erotic attractions and their personal religious faith. As the foremost Christian clinician/researcher working in this field, Yarhouse offers us a truly client-affirmative approach in an age of ideologically-foreclosed approaches to such issues. This volume is a welcome and impressive contribution.”

Stanton L. Jones, PhD, professor of psychology, Wheaton College

“For too long, sexual minorities have been asked to disavow either their faith for their sexual identity or their sexual identity for their faith.  Yarhouse’s SIT is a practical and culturally respectful way to walk with these individuals, empowering them to author their own stories, stories in which they discern how to hold their faith and sexual identity together, honoring what matters most to them.”

Janet Dean, PhD, licensed psychologist and associate professor of psychology, Asbury University

“This book is a highly needed clinical guide for Christian and non-religious practitioners with clients presenting a conflict between their religious and sexual identities. Prior to this work, clients entering therapy tended to see resolution through minimizing one aspect of identity while holding the other paramount. The author details a ‘third way’—one that holds religious and sexual identity in regard, that requires a cultural humility by the practitioner, and that focuses on client affirmation and internal congruence. While directed at clinicians, this work is also accessible and can be invaluable to individuals and families navigating this terrain.”

Michael Lastoria, professor emeritus, Houghton College, co-author of 'Listening to Sexual Minorities'

“I greatly appreciate the integrity of Mark’s work in (and his heart for) helping sexual-minority Christians as they struggle to make meaning out of their experiences of same-sex attraction amidst conflicting messages from inside and outside their faith traditions. This book provides mental health clinicians the necessary tools to help religiously-minded sexual minorities navigate often murky waters and potentially treacherous pathways towards inner peace and cognitive congruence.”

Trista L. Carr, PsyD, licensed psychologist (CA psy25232)

“I am so excited about the release of Sexual Identity and Faith by Dr. Mark Yarhouse. As a former graduate student who studied with him and learned SIT, I have applied this approach in work with many individuals who experience same-sex attraction to help them figure out how they wanted to “show up” in the world in a way that was consistent with their values. Dr. Yarhouse presents a nuanced, compassionate, and dialectical view of sexual identity that is client centered and helps the therapist provide support to the client in a way that is determined by the client’s values. Any clinician working with individuals whose experience of faith intersects with their sexuality will find this to be a helpful resource.”

Erica Tan, PsyD, Licensed Clinical Psychologist