Stephen Hayes comments on values and sexual identity therapy

Earlier this year, I (Throckmorton) was a part of a lively discussion about sexual identity therapy on the Counselor Education and Supervision network list serv. Near the end of the discussion, a listserv participant asked Stephen Hayes about his views of sexual identity therapy.

Dr. Hayes gave me permission to post his reply to the participant:

To the CESNET list serv – 4/10/2006

Earlier Warren referenced Acceptance and Commitment Therapy as a model for his stance. This intrigued me since I’m currently reading Steve Hayes’ workbook “Get out of you mind and into your life” which is incredible! I struggled with Warren’s reference, because my understanding thus far is that ACT is grounded in the notion that we find relief from suffering through acceptance first and then value-consistent action. And that first step is crucial. It is NOT a kind of short-hand, I’ll accept it so I can get rid it. It is true acceptance. I was having trouble piecing that together with changing sexual orientation. So I wrote Steve Hayes and asked how his model would address clients who are seeking to align their identity with deeply held religious beliefs, when those beliefs clash with their sexual orientation. He has permitted me to forward his response, below, to the listserv. I hope you find it useful and I advocate strongly that if there is a panel to discuss this issue that Steve Hayes be invited to speak.

Name removed by request of the author

—–Original Message—–
From: Steven C. Hayes [mailto:]
Sent: Sun 4/9/2006 3:35 AM

Subject: RE: ACT and changing sexual orientation??

ACT is about empowering people to live their values while making room for their history.

But suppose you have a religious value that is of higher importance? Could you also use these methods to live those values? It is a challenging question.

I struggled with the example you used when a student I helped train started a group at a Mormon university teaching gay Mormons to accept their feelings, defuse from the self critical thoughts, and then to make a choice about their religious values, and behave accordingly. What this group replaced was a very harsh group program that essentially attacked the idea of being gay. The former student got into trouble with the elders with his new approach and had to defend the group. He did, brilliantly (using as his defense the temptation of Christ and the idea that acknowledging a feeling or thought is not a sin).

The ACT model includes an active embrace of feelings without struggle. So if we are going to go in this direction, an ACT model will not support the “just don’t do it” model. We are not talking about suppression here. We are talking about self validation. I feel what I feel. I think what I think. I am a whole person. I choose my values. I choose to behave in accord with them.And we are not talking about imposed values … although all values are social in some sense.If you just try to “realign behavior” — that is not ACT.

I personally do not view this as an issue of identity. We are not our sexual feelings or our religious beliefs. We are whole human beings.

So, my answer is this:You have to decide as a therapist what your values are and what you are doing in therapy. Is it OK for you to support valued actions in others that conflict with your own? What is the limit? ACT can support the bisexual man become comfortable with having sex with men. Should you use it to help a gay Morman accept his sexual feelings and embrace his religious values? No doubt you could. Should you? It depends on how much of a values stretch it is for you.

I have dedicated much of my current work to the reduction of stigma and prejudice and gay people have suffered tremendously as a result of stigma and prejudice. And I do think some religious beliefs have fueled that process of stigmatizing.

Should we tell religious people what their values should be? If they wished to engage in human sacrifice, we would intervene. Is that situation the same as the one faced by a gay Mormon?

You have to decide as a therapist what your values are and what you are doing in therapy. An ACT model will frame the question but it will not provide the answer because values are a choice.

– S

Steven C. Hayes
Foundation ProfessorDepartment of Psychology
/298University of Nevada
Reno, NV 89557-0062

The listserv participant did not understand the role of the sexual identity therapy framework and ACT when she wrote Dr. Hayes. One reason the participant had “…trouble piecing that [ACT} together with changing sexual orientation” was because the participant did not understand that the SIT framework does not promote sexual orientation change. Indeed, ACT is quite compatible with the framework since the issue of relevance to clinical success is helping clients pursue chosen values, in contrast to fusion with private events {sexual thoughts and feelings inconsistent with values and beliefs). I felt Dr. Hayes gave a fine answer to the participant’s question.


  1. Anonymous on January 13, 2009 at 7:05 am

    I think you’re possibly misinterpreting what Hayes is saying. I don’t know him personally, but as I hear it, he’s simply saying that it doesn’t choose the values that guide the client. All values are, are guidelines; what the client chooses to direct his or her life to.

    I don’t think Hayes is exactly endorsing your program here.

  2. Warren Throckmorton on August 3, 2009 at 7:47 pm

    Anonymous – No he is not formally endorsing the framework but he did give permission for this comment to be used on this page, knowing what the framework was about. And we are endorsing what he has to say in the framework.

  3. Sonny on February 17, 2017 at 11:28 pm

    If you believe, do what Jesus did, cast the demon spirit out and set the person free. But, but, but they didn’t teach that in psycho class…..
    The war is in the heavens, and is played out in the earth
    Quit playin Christian lite, and do the works that HE did, or quit using the title

  4. Ben on September 2, 2017 at 6:37 pm

    As I understand it, SIT and ACT are the same on this point insofar as both invite the client to be open to their experience, sort through their own values, and make choices about how to live based on those freely chosen values (rather than being told what to do by religious groups, therapists, or others). To the best of my knowledge, neither ACT nor SIT promote orientiation change, but rather a way of living. I have only limited exposure to SIT (but considerably more to ACT), so it’s possible I may be mis-construing something, but I’m pretty sure the two are highly compatible.

    I believe the other major point of overlap is that SIT acknoweldges (to the best of my understanding) that some people will choose not to make their sexual orientation a fundamental part of their identity but rather retain it as a consistent part of their experience (e.g., those who identify as same-sex attracted but not “gay” or “lesbian” or “bisexual”). For members of that group, ACT can offer one way of framing that distinction.

  5. Warren Throckmorton on January 8, 2018 at 4:23 pm

    Sorry for the delay in responding but I agree with your comment. My preferred framework for many clinical issues is ACT and it is a natural when addressing sexual identity concerns.

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