Reparative Therapy Makeover Continues: When Reparative Isn’t Reparative

Past president of the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality is trying really hard to distance her organization from history and the organization’s leaders. In an article posted on NARTH’s website, Hamilton comments on her recent appearance on the Dr. Oz show (see my posts on that subject here and here) and makes a case that

…the term “reparative” never referred to trying to “repair” someone. It was originally used to refer to the “Reparative Theory” that when a child does not receive adequate same-sex bonding in childhood, homosexual attractions will develop as a “reparative drive” for those unmet needs.

She is correct here about the term reparative referring to a psychological drive. Proposed by Elizabeth Moberly and Joseph Nicolosi, the drive is not a positive development in reparative theory because the person experiences it in response to a deficit in relationship with the same-sex parent. The drive itself is trying to fix something that the reparative therapist believes is broken. Reparative therapists try to help same-sex attracted clients see that their attractions are futile efforts to repair and fill those unmet needs. While Hamilton is right in her explanation, I don’t think it changes much when it comes to how reparative therapists see homosexuality.  The client is still broken and in need of a different kind of repair than the homosexual reparative drive offers. In what will seem surprising to long time NARTH watchers, Hamilton claims that reparative therapy is just one of many change therapies promoted by NARTH.

NARTH does not use the term “Reparative Therapy” to refer to therapy for unwanted homosexual attractions.

She adds:

In actuality, “Reparative Therapy” only refers to one approach used by some therapists. However, there are many therapists who work with unwanted homosexual attractions, many of whom use combinations of other therapeutic methods. Therefore, a more inclusive term to describe this work would be therapy for unwanted homosexual attractions.

I would like to know what some of those other approaches are. She says they exist but she doesn’t give any specifics. The appeal to a more general terminology for NARTH’s work appears to be part of the recent makeover. NARTH carries this through into their court challenges to California’s new law banning change therapies for minors. In the Liberty Counsel brief, the term “sexual orientation change effort” (SOCE) is preferred. However, in the real world, three of the four plaintiffs in the NARTH case against Governor Brown are reparative therapists - David Pickup, Joseph Nicolosi, and Robert Vazzo. On page 19 of the complaint, Pickup is described as a consumer of “authentic SOCE counseling.”

As an adult, Mr. Pickup underwent authentic SOCE counseling, created by Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, for several years.

The only counseling created by Joseph Nicolosi is reparative therapy. In fact, Pickup acknowledges this on one of his websites:

David H. Pickup is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, currently operating his private psychotherapy practice in Burbank, California. He works primarily with men dealing with same-sex attraction through Reparative Therapy, (also commonly called Reorientation Therapy), which was created by Dr. Joseph Nicolosi over the past twenty years . David underwent extensive training in Reparative Therapy for three years underneath the direction of Dr. Nicolosi at Thomas Aquinas Psychological Clinic in Encino, California. He now offers expert training in this therapy to other therapists, either in person or via the internet for interns and therapists all over the world.  Reorientation Therapy is his primary focus and life’s work; assisting men and boys in healing their masculine wounds and helping them in their transformation out of homosexuality into heterosexuality.

Later in her article, Hamilton says that

NARTH represents licensed, ethical therapists who practice mainstream approaches to therapy in their offices. When we are talking about therapy, we are NOT referring to unorthodox approaches, nor are we referring to ministries, retreats, residential programs or any other form of help other than conventional therapy offered by licensed professionals in their offices.

Actually, some NARTH reparative therapists do recommend unorthodox methods and retreats. As noted earlier this week, David Pickup recommends the Mankind Project’s New Warriors Training Adventure where nudity is practiced and men are encouraged to run through a gauntlet of men to grab tennis balls or oranges symbolizing their testicles. Tennis racquets are used to beat pillows while visualizing parents or others. These are the kinds of things that have been described as taking place during JONAH counseling sessions in a suit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center. To my knowledge, NARTH has not spoken out against these practices. But then how could they? New Warrior David Pickup has represented NARTH in the CA legislature, and on numerous talk shows. While it is understandable that Hamilton wants to portray NARTH as mainstream, the public faces of NARTH in their court cases and media appearances have been reparative therapists, some of whom recommend the very techniques which NARTH says they don’t recommend. If NARTH wants to be taken seriously as mainstream, they need to come out clearly and strongly against catharsis and “guts work” techniques associated with New Warriors and Journey into Manhood. However, I don’t see how they can. The membership numbers would plummet.

UPDATE: There is another case challenging CA’s SB 1172, this one being brought be the Pacific Justice Institute. One of the plaintiffs in that case is NARTH member, Anthony Duk. During the fight over the bill, Duk wrote to bill author Ted Lieu. It certainly seems like NARTH is fighting for reparative therapy given that Dr. Duk is one of the plaintiffs in the suit.

Dear Senator Lieu, As a Vietnamese American psychiatrist, I have seen many young male patients grow up without father figures in a world that is very tough. They end up with lots of abuse (psychological, verbal, sexual, physical) that denies their masculinity and pushes them to have very low self esteem. Without reparative therapy to help them become men and understand their full potential in society as fathers and husbands, they wind up with a false identity of homosexuality and being ‘gay’. Reparative therapy works. It is a process of re-parenting, forgiving past traumas, understanding the self and realizing that one’s purpose in life is and how to contribute to society. Please give me a call to discuss my opposition to SB 1172 if you have any questions. Anthony Duk, MD

More in this series: The Reparative Therapy Makeover Continues: No Naked Therapy? The Reparative Therapy Makeover: Orange You Glad I Didn’t Say Banana?

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  • Patrocles

    I suppose that some methods are really unorthodox. BUT: “Tennis racquets are used to beat pillows while visualizing parents or others”? -

    Over the years I’ve read about dozens of therapies where patients are counseled to beat a pillow as substitute for a hated person (mostly parent). I wouldn’t have thought that that method is “unorthodox” nowadays.

  • Richard Willmer

    Hmmm. I would say that things like ‘pillow beating’ are perhaps ‘cathartic’ rather than ‘therapeutic’. To suggest that ‘pillow beating’ actually helps to improve a parent-child relationship DOES strike me as “unorthodox”. Is that reasonable of me, do you think?

  • Teresa

    A quote from Dr. Duk, one of the plaintiffs challenging California’s SB 1172

    It is a process of re-parenting, forgiving past traumas, understanding the self and realizing that one’s purpose in life is and how to contribute to society.

    The world of therapy becomes more confusing to me, the more I read about it. Warren, is ‘re-parenting’ an acceptable approach for a licensed therapist/psychiatrist? And, is Dr. Duk saying here that through reparative therapy one becomes str8?

  • Jim Guinnessey

    I guess the kooks will always be with us no matter how hard one proves to them that they are wrong. Don’t confuse these dopes with the facts! Their Earth is still flat!

  • Zoe Brain

    @Patrocles

    Over the years I’ve read about dozens of therapies where patients are counseled to beat a pillow as substitute for a hated person (mostly parent). I wouldn’t have thought that that method is “unorthodox” nowadays.

    Fascinating! Could you please tell me some URLs of studies with long-term follow-up showing the efficacy of this therapy compared to a control group?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton Warren

      @Patrocles – Yes, please refer us to such studies.

      In fact, you won’t find much, if anything. There are some non academic training programs here (e.g., Esalen) for those techniques but you won’t find them in many if any graduate schools. They tend to thrive among people who are holding on to the human potential movement. They teach each other and have a small industry recruiting unhappy people into their weekend retreats that will change their lives, except they have to keep going to them to keep their lives changed.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton Warren

    @Teresa – no reparenting is not mainstream. Ethical therapists refrain from this kind of stuff. If a therapist wants to be your mama, then run the other way.

  • David Hart

    A tad OT but have you seen this gem from FRC? http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/frcblog/~3/DF0OfH6goxo/ It is titled “Yes New Jersey, There are Ex-Gay Teenagers”

  • David Hart

    Oh, and about the guy who abuses furniture and bedding …

    1. He is seemingly in a toxic cult and;

    2. I have never seen where he has allowed others to review his records of outcomes over time. I’ll bet that he doesn’t have “patient” tracking two years or three years downstream and;

    3. He is now sitting on a boatload of cash intended to “educate” others. That scares the heck out of me.

  • Richard Willmer

    @ Warren

    If you ever said to me “I want to be your mama”, I might not run a mile, but I’d certainly very concerned! LOL!

    But I don’t think that’s ever going to happen. :-)

    Re. ‘beating pillows’: again, as I said before, not therapeutic, only maybe ‘cathartic’.

  • Ralph

    Richard Cohen is one of those who introduced pillow pounding and several other bio-energetic techniques developed by the late Alexander Lowen, M.D. Unfortunately, Lowen and/or any of his followers to my knowledge, have never done any short or long term studies of the efficacy of these techniques for the treatment of anything. The short term effect is perhaps cathartic, but therapeutic value very questionable. Cohen, who has used this technique extensively on the internet and otherwise has never shown any studies that I am aware of, that this would in any way change sexual orientation or anything else and I think that this is still the case.

    Cohen’s reparenting idea came from Dr. Martha Welsh about 1997, (http://www.perspectivespress.com/todreject.html) who developed and used this technique for the treatment of Autism in children. However, Cohen did not inform his clients that he really had no reason to believe that this technique had any efficacy for the treatment of unwanted male homosexuality and to this day I don’t think that he has offered any studies to date. However, these days, Cohen using the internet can influence thinking on this without any scientific evidence and surprisingly, alot of people buy into it.


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