Earlier this week, NPR produced a report briefly telling the stories of Rich Wyler and Peterson Toscano. Wyler is the co-founder of People Can Change and Journey into Manhood, both of which seek change of sexual orientation via a variety of highly provocative techniques. Toscano sought change for 17 years and then accepted that he was not changing despite a variety of methods.
In that report, Wyler and Toscano both referred to the belief that attachment disruptions with the same-sex parent contribute to homosexual attractions (Toscano now believes the theory to be completely false). Regular readers of this blog know some about the source of those ideas.
One of the more recent theorists and therapists who traffics in the reparative therapy is Joseph Nicolosi, co-founder of the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality.
Nicolosi often refers to mainstream theorists and therapists in his talks about reparative therapy. Specifically, of late, he asserts that he has incorporated the research and insights of therapists who focus on assisting clients with disruptions in important attachments. This is not unexpected given that reparative drive theory proposes that attachment disruptions help create homosexual strivings. One such therapist referred to often in Nicolosi’s recent book, Shame and Attachment Loss: The practical work of reparative therapy, is Diana Fosha. Fosha is an accomplished psychotherapist who is widely credited as a leader in experiential therapy. She is author of the book The Transforming Power of Affect and Director of the Accelerated Experiential-Dynamic Psychotherapy Institute.
Nicolosi describes Fosha’s work with the label, Affect-Focused Therapy. In fact, if you search for Affect-Focused Therapy and Diana Fosha in Google, Nicolosi’s references to her are the first few hits. Generally, Nicolosi credits Fosha and other like-minded therapists for making reparative therapy more effective.
Over the years, I have appreciated the contributions of attachment theorists to various approaches to therapy and so Nicolosi’s reference to Fosha made me curious. I decided to contact her to find out her views on the idea that attachment disruptions play a part in orienting sexual attractions toward the same or opposite sex. I also asked her if there was new research in her area of practice that might shed light on the prospects for sexual orientation change. Here is what she had to say.
FOSHA: No. If you really think of it, half of people who have attachment problems have attachment problems with the same-sex parent. There are no studies that I am aware of that in any way link attachment problems of any kind with gender identity, sexual identity and issues of attraction. None. Attachment problems predict interpersonal problems and affect regulation patterns, and are a risk factor for compromised resilience in the face of trauma across all sexual orientations
Throckmorton: Do you know of any evidence that affect focused therapy (AFT) can change gays to straight or in some way alter a person’s sexual orientation?
Throckmorton: So then, you know of no evidence that sexual orientation can be changed from gay to straight by addressing and ameliorating attachment issues with parents or others?
FOSHA: No, none. When attachment disruptions are addressed successfully, people are generally happier and may develop stronger adult relationships, greater resilience and greater well-being, but their essential sexual orientation stays the same, whether they are straight or gay.
Throckmorton: Do you or your organization offer any trainings or educational experiences using AFT to achieve sexual reorientation?
Throckmorton: Do you or your organization have any position on using AFT to try to achieve sexual reorientation? Are you neutral about it; favor it or oppose it?
FOSHA: I have not read Nicolosi’s work, so I would not presume to be definitive, but based on what I know from the popular media about such methods (whether this applies to his or not, I do not know) leads me to strongly oppose such efforts– and view them as misguided at best, and dangerous at worst.
While Dr. Fosha is candidly unaware of the specifics of reparative therapy, it is informative that she does not see any relationship between attachment problems and sexual orientation. If such problems were frequently associated with sexual orientation changes, I would think she would see evidence of a relationship in her work. Her experience mirrors my own – attachment problems are so pervasive among same, other and both-sex attracted people that one cannot point to these disruptions as the general driving factor behind sexual orientation.