Wednesday, September 26, 2012

What Is Reparative Conversion Therapy for Gay Males?

Yesterday there was a "thing" floating around social media about conversion therapy and I know the basic principles behind reparative therapy for gay males, but not many details. So I decided to post something about it in case anyone else was wondering. Remember I'm not a psychologist, nor do I want to be one. The comments I've made are only based on my personal experiences.

Here's one web site that says:

"In this major and compelling work, Dr. Nicolosi addresses the issue of changing homosexuality with courage and clinical integrity. Refusing to give in to political pressure and attack, he has listened, instead, to his patients--to their developmental dilemmas and to their developmental needs. Basing the treatment plan on this clinical data and on recent advances in understanding gender identity, he offers hope to the thousands of men who do not want to feel coerced by either their own internal conflicts or by outside political pressures to live a life inimical to who they are and to who they want to be." --Althea J. Horner, Ph.D.

I get what this is saying about "political pressure and attack." I really do. I've posted here more than once about how I'm not fond of a lot of the pressure gay men receive from the loudest voices in the gay community. I do think things like National Coming Out Day can hurt just as many gay men as it can help others. I'm not fond of the label that just because someone is gay he or she must always follow the same politics. And I'm not the only one in the LGBT community who feels this way. However, in the same respect, I have never felt "coerced" by anyone to be gay, nor have I ever felt pressured to be something...someone...I'm not. If anything, I find that this web site about conversion therapy is doing the very same thing it claims others are doing. Putting pressure on gay men in a different way. Some would claim in an unhealthy, unnatural way. And that's because gay is not a choice.

As one 23-year old client explained:

"I've had these feelings and these urgings, but the idea of being of gay person is just's such a strange lifestyle, on the fringes of's something I could never be a part of."

In any event, the excerpt I posted above from a book about conversion therapy by Jospeh Nicolosi is interesting in spite of the fact that I don't buy one single word of it. Yes there are some segments of the "gay" lifestyle that are unusual and they are on the fringes of society. But most aren't. So that's a huge misconception about what it's like to be gay. I don't know where this person got his information, but he must be watching too much TV and seeing the smallest segment of gay people where they aren't always represented correctly. I've been talking about this with an Amish friend of mine who feels the same way about how the Amish community is always represented by TV and the mainstream media. It's always sensationalized in way that's geared toward getting as many viewers as possible.

Of course wiki makes it plain and simple with this:

 Conversion therapy is therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation.[1] Conversion therapy has been a source of intense controversy in the United States and other countries.[2] The American Psychiatric Association has condemned psychiatric "treatment" which is "based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon the a priori assumption that a patient should change his/her sexual homosexual orientation."[3] It states that, "Ethical practitioners refrain from attempts to change individuals' sexual orientation."[4] It also states that political and moral debates over the integration of gays and lesbians into the mainstream of American society have obscured scientific data about changing sexual orientation "by calling into question the motives and even the character of individuals on both sides of the issue."[3]

When you read about the controversy surrounding this, it's no wonder The American Psychiatric Association has condemned it.

In fact, the biggest controversy I've seen so far is this:

California wants to ban conversion therapy altogether for gay youths.

Proponents of the law say top mental-health organizations agree that such practices are not only misguided but also dangerous, potentially leading to anxiety, depression, feelings of worthlessness, and even suicide. Opponents say there is more than 100 years of professional and scientific literature on the subject of sexual-orientation change, offering a strong case that, for at least some people, sexual orientation can be modified.

Talk about an understatement. As it is most gay men have anxiety, depression, feelings of worthlessness, and suicide without conversion therapy. These stress related issues, for lack of a better term, all stem from the pressure society in general has been putting on gay people for years.

Also in this article, we return to the man I linked to above, Joseph Nicolosi, who truly believes conversion therapy works. He's written four books and it sounds like he's made this his life's work.

But Joseph Nicolosi, who has written four books on the subject and founded the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), says the new law is dangerously constrictive and too broad.

“We don’t believe there is such a thing as a gay teen, because no teen is mature enough to define himself as gay. We’re not out to change them so much as investigate," says Mr. Nicolosi. "The danger of this law is that it tries to kill simple attempts at understanding by saying gayness is static and ‘How dare you try to change someone’s personhood?’ ”

That's convoluted logic, and a selfish attempt to gain clinical information at someone else's expense. No teen is mature enough to define him/herself as ANYTHING. But I can remember being attracted to men as young as three years old. So again, it's not a choice, I didn't define myself at any age, and my sexual orientation doesn't define me completely. It does to a certain extent, but only because society has placed that label on me, not because I chose to be labeled. The only reason I use the word gay is because it's less clinical than homosexual and there's no other word to use...unless I were to use pejoratives.

Here's something where an apology is offered to the gay community by a psychologist who practiced reparative therapy.

 I believe I owe the gay community an apology for my study making unproven claims of the efficacy of reparative therapy. I also apologize to any gay person who wasted time and energy undergoing some form of reparative therapy because they believed that I had proven that reparative therapy works with some "highly motivated" individuals.

Finally, this is a fascinating read about how Joseph Nicolosi's conversion therapy did not work on someone. It's detailed, and a true story.

It’s true that while in therapy, I did not feel coerced into believing his theories. Like nuclear fallout, the damage came later, when I realized my sexual orientation would not change. I could have told Nicolosi about my thoughts of suicide, my time in the mental institution. I could have told him that my parents still don’t understand me but that I’m grown up now and it has less of a bearing on my life. I could have told him that I married a man. But I realize it wouldn’t be of any use: I’ve changed since I left therapy, but Nicolosi has not. For years I shared my innermost thoughts and feelings with him. Now I want to keep this for myself.

I can only read between the lines of this article. This person didn't have a supportive family like I did. His mother went right to work on curing him and making him straight. My mother, a retired therapist, said she'd always suspected and it didn't matter one way or the other to her as long as I was happy. So while Nicolosi might think he's on to something, I think he should start working on the backgrounds of gay people before he tries to change them. In most cases, that's where the root of the problem stems.

Another thing I find interesting is that I mentioned above where someone quoted the gay lifestyle as being on the fringes of society. And yet, ironically, if the law in California is passed people who support conversion therapy will not only be on the fringes themselves, they'll be on the fringes of the fringes, and breaking the law as well.


Barb said...

Amen to everything you said above. I''ve always thought that a therapists job was to help a person accept the circumstances that ARE, and to learn how to cope more effectively with what IS. To follow the thinking of Nicolosi, if a person has repeated bad interpersonal relationships, they should move to a desert island and not attempt ANY relationships at all. A reputable therapist helps you determine the causes of the poor relationships and then learn how to be more successful in them.

ryan field said...

I agree...and most therapists help the client come to a conclusion through therapy. They don't try to change the client, draw conclusions for the client, or in any way tell the client what to do. At least that's what I heard growing up with two parents who are therapists.