Dr Robert Spitzer, who helped to progress gay rights, dies aged 83

Joseph McCormick December 27, 2015
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Dr Robert Spitzer, a psychiatrist who helped to declassify homosexuality as a disorder, has died aged 83.

Dr Spitzer, a leading psychiatrist, died of heart problems said his wife Columbia University Professor Emerita Janet Williams.

He is credited by gay rights activists with removing homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), in 1973.

The change was made after he met with gay rights activists. He determined that if gay people were comfortable with their sexual orientations, it could not be a disorder.

“A medical disorder either had to be associated with subjective distress – pain – or general impairment in social function,” he told the Washington Post.

Dr Spitzer’s work on various editions of the DSM defined most major disorders.

His wife, with who he lived in Seattle, said he did so “so all in the profession could agree on what they were seeing.”

The work he did included defining disorders by convening meetings of experts in each diagnostic category.

“Rather than just appealing to authority, the authority of Freud, the appeal was: Are there studies? What evidence is there?” Dr Spitzer said to the New Yorker in 2005.

“The people I appointed had all made a commitment to be guided by data.”

The 83-year-old was also credited with being “the most influential psychiatrist of his time”, by Dr Allen Frances, a professor emeritus of psychiatry at Duke University and editor of a later edition of the DSM.

Dr Jack Drescher, a gay New York based psychoanalyst told the Times: “The fact that gay marriage is allowed today is in part owed to Bob Spitzer.”

Dr Spitzer previously apologised in 2012, for a 2001 study which claimed that ‘gay cure’ therapy could change someone’s sexual orientation if they were willing.

He said it was flawed because it simply asked those who had undergone the controversial practice, whether they had changed their sexual orientation.

“As I read these commentaries (about the study,) I knew this was a problem, a big problem, and one I couldn’t answer,” Dr. Spitzer told the Times. “How do you know someone has really changed?”

Related topics: declassified, disorder, dr spitzer, mental disorder, robert spitzer

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