California Psychologist Answers Questions on Reparative Therapy for Homosexuals
On CNN recently, reporter Anderson Cooper aired a three-part series on AC360 called "The 'Sissy Boy' Experiment: Uncovering the Truth." The series centered round the tragic life of Kirk Andrew Murphy, a gay man who underwent reparative therapy, but decades later committed suicide at the age of 38. In the third of the three-part series, Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, the U.S's. most prominent reparative therapist, is interviewed in response to this and charges from a patient by the name of Ryan Kendall that Nicolosi tried to coerce him into going straight.
I first encountered Dr. Nicolosi in London at a conference addressing the issue of reparative therapy and watched as he applied his principles to a number of men who came voluntarily to the conference.
Dr. Joseph Nicolosi agreed to be interviewed by VOL about his recent television appearance on AC360. He answers questions about Reparative Therapy and the story of Kendall who claims he was damaged by the therapy Dr. Nicolosi gave him.
A World Exclusive
By David W. Virtue
June 16, 2011
VIRTUEONLINE: My first question, of necessity, Dr. Nicolosi, is to ask, what is Reparative Therapy?
NICOLOSI: It is a therapy for men who wish to diminish their unwanted homosexual attractions and explore their heterosexual potential. It is also useful for people who are at a crossroads regarding their sexual identity and would like to understand their options, other than the socially expected one of claiming a gay identity.
VIRTUEONLINE: You are an American clinical psychologist, founder and director of the Thomas Aquinas Psychological Clinic, in Encino, California, and a past-president of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH). How many therapists do you employ in the clinic doing reparative therapy?
NICOLOSI: At this time we have six therapists including myself.
VIRTUEONLINE: You have advocated and practiced reparative therapy for over twenty years in attempts to help people overcome or reduce unwanted homosexual feelings. What is the recidivism rate?
NICOLOSI: Change from homosexuality is an ongoing process and can rarely be called "complete." It requires ongoing attentiveness to the triggers that bring on unwanted homo-erotic attractions, as well as lifelong maintenance of close, satisfying, non-erotic friendships with other men, to avoid the isolation from men that fosters unwanted eroticism. But most men who persist in therapy will see a very significant reduction in those unwanted feelings, and those feelings will no longer control his life.
In relationships with women, the man must remain vigilant to avoid "losing himself" and compromising his masculine separateness. Homosexually oriented men tend to find themselves entwined in excessively close friendships with women-particularly, with narcissistic women who do not understand that men cannot in a healthy way, be their "best friends" - and this reactivates old, negative memories of unhealthy entanglement with their mothers.
So in answer to your question, change is an ongoing process, and the client who has been involved in a gay lifestyle must expect and prepare for this lifetime process. For the client who never immersed himself in gay life, the transition will be easier. And for a man who deeply believes himself to have been created heterosexual, designed for opposite-sex marriage, this process, though difficult, will have its joys and may be willingly embraced in the service of that ideal.
VIRTUEONLINE: You describe the problem of homosexuality as "gender-identity deficit" caused by an alienation from, and perceived rejection by, individuals of the subject's gender. What does this mean in layman's terms?
NICOLOSI: The man who feels homosexual is one who never completely identified with the same-sex parent (or parent-substitute) and the masculinity he represents. Thus he seeks to repair his own "broken image" from outside himself, in another man.
VIRTUEONLINE: You said on the AC360 "Sissy Boy" show that you are an ally of the person in front of you, a "good male image", his "friend" and the core problem was an "identity" one. Would you elaborate on that please?
NICOLOSI: The more the client comes to see that he is fully male, through attaching to benevolent and strong masculine figures, the less "mysterious" he will find other men, and therefore the less exciting and compelling.
VIRTUEONLINE: I once heard you say that if you have not gotten to the bottom of a patient's problems in 8 sessions, then you looked at yourself and asked why? Is that still true?
NICOLOSI: Yes and no; we can usually see the source of the client's problems in that short period but he cannot overcome them in that time.
VIRTUEONLINE: I notice that a lot of people (including the Archbishop of Canterbury) talk about "sexual orientation", yet you and others use the term "same-sex attractions". What is the difference?
NICOLOSI: Same-sex attractions (which we call SSA) constitute one form of sexual orientation (homosexual). I think the term "SSA" is a gentler, less negative-sounding word than "homosexual," and my clients prefer that term.
VIRTUEONLINE: Can you explain the dynamics of change as a person moves from same-sex attractions to heterosexuality?
NICOLOSI: The person sees himself more and more as a complete male, and less and less in need of another male to make himself feel whole. When he feels more whole as a male, he will naturally, slowly begin to find the opposite sex attractive, if he can succeed in freeing himself from the negative associations he has about females "draining" him and violating his separateness. If he cannot succeed in this second step then his life may be one of celibacy, which in this culture sounds like a shocking self-denial, but for men who have lived years involved in compulsive, life-threatening sexual encounters, this is often a great relief. Others who cannot accept celibacy, however, may go back to a gay lifestyle.
I doubt that people in our "anything goes" culture can imagine the pain, the self-hatred so many men feel who cannot control their homosexual attractions. The letters we receive are heart-breaking: gay life is absolutely crippling for many men. There is so much self-hatred, indignity, such feelings of deep shame and unworthiness, such loneliness and emptiness. And for men of religious faith, there is guilt; they have the profound conviction that they are not following the path that God designed for them.
Even men who say they are happy being gay-or think they do not have any alternative-and who are living in a "committed" gay relationship are, research shows, characteristically promiscuous. This is not how we were intended to live.
VIRTUEONLINE: You said on the show that you were trying to bring out the heterosexuality in gay men. What does that mean?
NICOLOSI: I believe that we were all intended to be heterosexual, and that no one was designed to be gay. Our bodies were designed for the opposite sex. Let's be blunt: the anus was not biologically designed as a sexual organ. Two men were not emotionally designed to be mothers to a child. So I am trying to coax out the natural heterosexuality that is somewhere, to at least some degree, latent in us all, no matter how much it has been derailed.
VIRTUEONLINE: Why do some people fail?
NICOLOSI: In this culture, everything works against such an effort. A man is shamed for not just "accepting himself as who he is (gay)." When a man has spent many years finding that sexual "zing" from other men, these experiences cannot be erased from the neural networks of his brain. Homosexual feelings can always, on at least some level, be reactivated, because they brought pleasure and relieved stress.
VIRTUEONLINE: Turning to the AC360 TV series, was the "Sissy Boy" experiment aimed at changing him? That is making feminine boys more masculine? It seems he was deeply damaged all his life and much later committed suicide. Was this a result of therapy gone wrong?
NICOLOSI: Who can know what happened in his case? But to put it in context, homosexually oriented people have a much higher rate of psychological problems, substance abuse, disordered family backgrounds, and suicide attempts. This is a known fact. Why did the show not reveal this fact?
VIRTUEONLINE: The show said you said gays were bad people, that they were going to Hell etc. that it (homosexuality) was an "abomination", that they are "sick people" Is there any truth in that?
NICOLOSI: I never make religious judgments on people, that is ridiculous; they only need to read my books and articles to know that I would never speak like that. But as for whether or not homosexuality is a healthy or unhealthy adaptation, I always clarify to clients that the mental-health associations say that it is, but that I find a lot of evidence to question that assumption.
VIRTUEONLINE: You have been accused of being homophobic for trying to change homosexuals into heterosexuals. How do you answer such a charge?
NICOLOSI: I don't have a "phobia," which is an irrational fear. I make my arguments based on rational claims, scientific research, and carefully argued theory.
VIRTUEONLINE: What part, if any, does faith play in the healing process? Mr. Kendall accused of you of "praying away" his being gay.
NICOLOSI: Obviously, I do not work that way.
VIRTUEONLINE: George Rekers who worked for NARTH as a therapist was cited in a lot of your research as "gays who can overcome their same-sex attractions" yet in the end he was seen taking a young man with him on a trip to Europe who later said he had "massage sex" with Rekers. Does that invalidate all his research?
NICOLOSI: If it happened, it was a grave indiscretion, but I will stay out of that controversy. The real issue is, does Dr. Rekers' research stand up? Do his theories make sense?
Of course, if we threw out the work of every gay-activist researcher accused of being involved in a personal scandal, there would be no literature on their side of the issue, would there?
Dr. Rekers dedicated 30 years of his life to very important work which has become a well-respected part of the scientific literature.
VIRTUEONLINE: Will you ever treat someone who comes to you involuntarily or who is coerced by a parent with the statement, "my son is gay, fix him".
NICOLOSI: Treatment would not work, so why bother? We could expose the young man to our ideas for a session or two, so that he could have some balance against what the other side is saying, but that would be about it.
VIRTUEONLINE: Do you think Anderson Cooper's being gay twisted the show towards empathy towards gays with a loss of objectivity about the whole subject?
NICOLOSI: It would be better if he had mentioned his personal bias.
VIRTUEONLINE: To your knowledge, of all the hundreds of patients you have treated over the years, has anyone committed suicide?
NICOLOSI: All clinicians who have been working for a lifetime with severely anxious and depressed clients will probably eventually learn that a former client took his life. Fortunately, I have no knowledge of anyone having done this. It would be a tragedy for any psychologist.
VIRTUEONLINE: Thank you Dr. Nicolosi.
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