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Charles W. Socarides was a controversial psychoanalyst who campaigned against the decision of the American Psychiatric Association that homosexuality was not a mental illness. A product of the 1950s era American medical-ization of psychotherapy that retained the language and non-scientific approach of Freudianism though not its balanced humanistic insights into human sexuality—graduating from Harvard College and receiving a certificate in Psychoanalytic Medicine from Columbia University in 1952--Socarides theorized that homosexuality was the product of overbearing mothers and absent fathers. He also claimed that he had "cured" many of the mental "disorder” although as a Freudian he escaped from the burden of having to offer convincing empirical proof for his claims.
Angry Marginal FigureEdit
Socaride's numerous mainstream professional critics dismissed his life’s work as lacking a scientific foundation. Gilbert Herdt, director of the National Sexuality Resource Center in San Francisco, summarizes his work as going "from being the reigning paradigm to being considered eccentric." Jeanne Hoff, a retired psychiatrist personally familiar Socarides described him as a, "captive of the psychoanalytic school, now thoroughly discredited, and tried to use elements of that theory to explain what was largely hidden from view at the time, causing a great deal of suffering to parents and gays alike for the implication of abnormality. Modern psychiatry, more objective and less blaming, sees homosexuality as one band on a broad spectrum of normal variants in the ways human sexuality develops, and not a rare and destructive disorder. He never seems to have made the adjustment to data, objective study, or the demise of his psychoanalytic faith-based system." Socarides' unscientific convictions were not shaken by the 1973 decision of the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders. Dr. Socarides claimed the association was, "under political assault by gay activists." That a majority of professional colleagues simply disagreed was unacceptable as an idea to him, but then mainstream psychiatrists know that paranoia is often associated with homosexual panic. Socarides had an openly gay son, Richard Socarides, who served as a White House advisor on gay and lesbian rights in the Clinton Administration. Socarides postured by “willingly” taking some of the blame for his son’s homosexuality, saying that he had "failed" his son by not seeing him enough after divorcing his first wife.
Charles Socarides appears to have become a Freudian at the impressionable age of 13 after reading a biography of Sigmund Freud. His conversion was thus less the result of intellectual conviction than attachment to a portrayal of a attractive father figure in text.
Much of Dr. Socarides' work was spent studying how homosexuality develops and how it might be treated. He was convinced that homosexuality is a neurotic adaptation that could be completely overcome. According to Socarides, male homosexuality typically develops in the first two years of the boy's life, during the pre-oedipal stage of the boy's personality formation, and is caused by a domineering, controlling, castrating, and phallic mother who prevents her son from separating from her, and a distant, weak, abdicating, and rejecting father who does not serve as a role model for his son and does not support his son's effort to escape from the mother.
In addition to rejecting the proposition that homosexuality was normal--it appears in every society on the planet—Socarides also disregarded a wide variety of other possible organic or genetic causes. His lack of training in cultural anthropology and the gaps in his training in the biological sciences may have disinclined him to develop beyond his original intellectual indoctrination.
Claims of Successful TreatmentEdit
Dr. Socarides “treated” patients for homosexuality throughout his career. He claimed that "about a third"  of his patients became heterosexual and led heterosexual lives after treatment. Similar claims of “cure” rates continue to be made by the small minority of psychotherapists who share his misunderstanding. By "cure" Socarides and other reparative psychotherapists do not mean that their subjects no longer experience homosexual feelings but rather that such feelings are effectively repressed. Of course, sexual repression of any sort comes with its own dangers to the personality which may be reflected in self-destructive and anti-social behaviors, behaviors often preferred by other suffering from similar mental disturbances.
Socarides was the author of sixteen books including his “master” work, Preoedipal Origin and Psychoanalytic Therapy of Sexual Perversions, and Work and Its Inhibitions: Psychoanalytic Essays as well as over 80 psychoanalytic articles. Charles Socarides appeared on numerous news programs to discuss his psychoanalytic work and findings including Dateline, 60 Minutes, and Larry King Live. Charles Socarides was the past president of National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), which he co-founded in 1992. Charles Socarides was on the board of directors of the Margaret S. Mahler Psychiatric Research Foundation. He was a member of the International Advisory Committee, Second Delphi International Psychoanalytic Symposium, Delphi, Greece, 1988. He was also a member of the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the Association for Psychoanalytic Medicine, and the International Psychoanalytical Association. Furthermore, he was a life member of the American Psychoanalytic Association, where he chaired a discussion group for many years, and an affiliate member of the Royal Society of Medicine, London, United Kingdom. A practicing psychiatrist and psychoanalyst in New York City from 1954 until his death, Charles Socarides taught Pychiatry at Columbia University and the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center, and was Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York City, from 1978 to 1996. He lectured on his research findings in London, United Kingdom at the Anna Freud Centre, the Portman Clinic, the Tavistock Clinic, and before the British Psychoanalytical Society. His numerous awards include that of Distinguished Psychoanalyst, Association of Psychoanalytic Psychologists, British National Health Service, London, England, April 28, 1995; the first Sigmund Freud Lectureship Award, New York Center for Psychoanalytic Training, New York City, the 1987 Sigmund Freud Award given by the American Society of Psychoanalytic Physicians in recognition of distinguished service to psychiatry and psychoanalytic research, and the Physicians Recognition Award of the American Medical Association from 1970 to 1973.
The complete list of Charles Socarides' books follows:
- Charles W. Socarides. Homosexuality: A Freedom Too Far.
- Charles W. Socarides. Homosexuality.
- Charles W. Socarides and Toksoz B. Karasu. On Sexuality: Psychoanalytic Observations.
- Charles W. Socarides. Beyond Sexual Freedom.
- Charles W. Socarides and Selma Kramer. Work and Its Inhibitions: Psychoanalytic Essays.
- Charles W. Socarides. The World of Emotions: Clinical Studies of Affects and Their Expression.
- Vamik D. Volkan and Charles W. Socarides. The Homosexualities: Reality, Fantasy, and the Arts.
- Charles W. Socarides. The Overt Homosexual.
- Loretta L. Loeb and Charles W. Socarides. The Mind of the Paedophile: Psychoanalytic Perspectives.
- Charles W. Socarides. Preoedipal Origin and Psychoanalytic Therapy of Sexual Perversions.
- Charles W. Socarides. Homosexuality: Psychoanalytic Therapy.
- Vamik D. Volkan and Charles W. Socarides. The Homosexualities and the Therapeutic Process.
- Charles W. Socarides and Abraham Freedman. Objects of Love: The Sexual Deviations.
- James Jennings and Charles W. Socarides. A Day at a Time: Daily Reflections for Recovering People.
- Elaine V. Siegel and Charles W. Socarides. Dance-Movement Therapy: Mirror of Our Selves: A Psychoanalytic Approach.
- Charles W. Socarides. Sexual politics and scientific logic: The Issue of Homosexuality.
Dr. Socarides died on Christmas Day, 2005 due to heart failure at the age of 83.
- Eli Zaretsky. “Charisma or Rationalization? Domesticity and Psychoanalysis in the United States in the 1950s.” ‘’Critical Inquiry’’. Winter 2000. Pp. 328-354.
- n.a. "Charles Socarides Dies; Said He 'Cured' Gays." The Los Angeles Times. January 2, 2006.
- Valerie J. Nelson. “Dr. Charles Socarides--Called Homosexuality a Neurosis.” ‘’The San Francisco Examiner’’. January 1, 2006.
- How America Went Gay, by Charles W. Socarides, M.D., originally printed in America Magazine, November 18, 1995.
- Dr. Charles Socarides, Lover Of Humanity, by Dr. Benjamin Kaufman.
- Two Different Obituaries for Dr. Charles Socarides, by Frank York.
- Excerpt from the Book Homosexuality: A Freedom Too Far, by Charles W. Socarides, M.D.
- A Tribute to Charles W. Socarides, by A. Dean Byrd, Ph.D., MBA, MPH.
- Charles William Socarides Death Notice, published by The New York Times on December 27, 2005.