Charles W. Socarides, 83; Psychiatrist Said Gays Could Become Straight

Times Staff Writer

Dr. Charles W. Socarides, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who went against mainstream thinking and continued to forcefully proclaim that homosexuality was a curable neurosis, has died. He was 83.

Socarides died Sunday of heart failure at Metropolitan Hospital Center in New York City, said his wife, Claire Alford Socarides.

In the 1960s, his view that homosexuals suffered from a treatable mental illness brought national fame and notoriety to Socarides, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.

He became a regular on television news and talk shows that bore such titles as “Gay Today, Straight Tomorrow” -- a 1995 episode of the syndicated “Geraldo” -- and published six books on homosexuality.

He did not waver when the American Psychiatric Assn., in a milestone for the profession, removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 1973.


Socarides claimed the association was “under political assault by gay activists.”

Almost two decades later, Socarides helped found the National Assn. for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, which is “committed to the research and treatment of homosexuality,” said Joseph Nicolosi, a psychologist and one of the founders of the Encino-based group.

“We formed this organization to support therapists around the country ... who are professionally receptive to the clientele that we call ‘nongay homosexuals,’ ” Nicolosi said.

Some conservatives supported Socarides’ views, but critics said his claims were outdated and lacked a scientific basis.

“His ideas had outlived what most of his colleagues viewed as scientific, truthful and honest,” said Gilbert Herdt, an anthropologist who is director of the National Sexuality Resource Center in San Francisco. “His theory went from being the reigning paradigm to being considered eccentric.”

By the mid-1990s, Socarides said, he had treated about a thousand homosexual patients. He claimed to have “cured” more than a third through psychoanalysis that dealt with what he said was the cause: an overbearing mother and an absent father.

When it was pointed out that Socarides had an openly gay son -- Richard, who was an advisor to the Clinton White House on gay and lesbian rights -- he willingly took some of the blame. He had “failed” his son by not seeing him enough after divorcing his first wife.

His son told the Chicago Tribune in 1995: “I don’t think it’s easy for anybody to grow up gay. But given Charles’ outspokenness on the subject of a so-called cure for homosexuality, it sure wasn’t any easier.”

Charles William Socarides was born Jan. 24, 1922, in Brockton, Mass. At 13, he read a book on Sigmund Freud and decided to become a physician and psychoanalyst.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in 1945 from Harvard College, Socarides graduated from New York Medical College two years later. He studied psychoanalysis at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons.

In addition to writing dozens of articles for journals, Socarides published at least 11 books, including “The Overt Homosexual” (1968) and “Homosexuality: A Freedom Too Far” (1995), which took issue with the gay rights movement.

Socarides’ first three marriages ended in divorce. In addition to his fourth wife, Claire, whom he married in 1988, and his son, Richard, he is survived by another son, two daughters, a grandchild and a sister.