Reparative Therapy Makeover Continues: What Does Mainstream Mean?

Facing challenges to reparative therapy, NARTH past president Julie Hamilton penned an article last week defending NARTH from charges that it is a reparative therapy organization that promotes odd techniques

In this article, Hamilton wrote:

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.

What is mainstream?

As I pointed out here, NARTH leaders and members recommend very unorthodox and discredited techniques to their clients.  For instance, NARTH member and former board member Arthur Goldberg is a defendant in a law suit brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center over the efficacy of changing sexual orientation from gay to straight. In the complaint, plaintiffs alleged that Goldberg’s counselor, Alan Downing, required clients to struggle through a gauntlet of men to seize oranges which symbolized testicles as a sign of masculinity. Clients were allegedly asked to undress in front of the counselors and to beat pillows with tennis racquets while visualizing their mothers.

Are those mainstream techniques?

I established in recent posts that NARTH leaders refers clients to New Warriors Training Adventure, a weekend retreat which incorporates the oranges, nudity and pillow beating into a masculinity enhancing weekend. If the SPLC complaint is correct, Jonah incorporates those techniques into therapy sessions. Is that orthodox?


On NARTH’s website, tips for parents who struggle with a gay child are presented. At the end of this article by James Phelan, the New Warriors Training Adventure is recommended as is JONAH. In addition to those two groups, Richard Cohen’s International Healing Foundation is recommended because it offers “deep inner child work (re-parenting).”

Is re-parenting mainstream?

Note from this video at about 38 seconds how Mr. Cohen suggests that therapists establish a parent-child relationship.

Most therapists would not agree that therapists should attempt to “re-parent” their clients. In fact, the practice and accompanying attitude toward clients fell into disrepute in the 1990s (see this article for more on Jacqui Shiff, the mother of reparenting). Even though reparenting is not taught or practiced widely, perhaps, NARTH therapists think the techniques are mainstream. NARTH member Anthony Duk (who is the plaintiff in a NARTH lawsuit against the state of CA) told state Senator Ted Lieu that re-parenting is something specific to reparative therapy. Duk wrote:

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.


Part of Richard Cohen’s approach is what he calls bioenergetics. There is a history to bioenergetics that connects to a somewhat mainstream therapist, Alexander Lowen. However, most often what is associated with bioenergetics is beating pillows with a tennis racquet while screaming angry words at a visualization of another person, usually a parent. Since reparative therapists think the type and quality of parenting cause one’s sexual orientation, clients need to heal from bad parenting, sometimes via catharsis. Reparative therapists also believe child abuse influences sexual abuse so the bioenergetic among them recommend the carthartic methods to address anger over victimization.

Is catharsis mainstream?

While expending energy in purposeful activity can be helpful, catharsis has not fared well in research investigations and is not generally considered mainstream. Research suggests that catharsis actually makes anger worse and can lead to more aggression. Just about any course in social psychology at the undergraduate level will provide psychology majors with enough data to address the central claims of cathartic methods. However, NARTH allows an article on its website which recommends IHF, New Warriors, and other such groups who use these techniques. And NARTH leaders use them. IHF’s Christopher Doyle and NARTH’s frequent media representative and New Warrior member David Pickup manage NARTH’s Facebook page. In other words, those who are prominent in the group and represented in their legal actions endorse techniques that most of their peers say are not mainstream. And that is without even mentioned sexual re-orientation.

I understand that some NARTH members don’t use these techniques and probably would not recommend them. However, observers of NARTH can be forgiven for pointing out the obvious. Hamilton says NARTH does not represent the unorthodox but their leaders recommend the unorthodox and NARTH’s attorneys are representing some members who recommend the unorthodox.

Some evangelicals have rushed to defend NARTH and reparative therapy but I urge them to exercise caution. One must look more deeply than the claims of orthodoxy to know what is being defended when one defends reparative therapy.

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  • Teresa

    Warren, I have a question about ‘Affirmation Therapy’, which was an approach started by Dr. Conrad D. Baars and Dr. Anna A. Terruwe. Below is a long quote about ‘Affirmation Therapy’. Note the bit about therapist’s role as likened to that of a parent. Is this type of therapy an approved therapy? Note, also, Dr. Baars and Dr. Terruwe are Catholic.

    Affirmation therapy involves the therapist’s affective, not effective, presence with a client—in other words, it is a way of “being” with a person as opposed to “doing” something for him or her. Affirmation therapy can be formally described as a way of being affectively present to another human person in a therapeutic relationship in which the therapist reveals to the client his or her intrinsic goodness and worth. Affirmation is a profound way of being with someone that should not be mistaken for a set of simplistic techniques such as giving a pat on the back or a superficial or shallow compliment. Any actions or interventions on the part of the therapist are secondary to the therapist’s affective presence and are only healing in the context of the loving and nurturing environment created by the therapist.

    The authentic care, concern, and love for the client by the therapist is communicated on an emotional level through the therapist’s eyes, facial expression, countenance and other nonverbal communication, as well as gentle words of acceptance and encouragement emanating naturally from the therapist’s heart. This affective presence allows the client to feel loved and worthwhile instead of simply trying to believe it with his or her intellect based on the words of the therapist. As the client accepts or receives affirmation from the therapist, emotional growth occurs naturally and is allowed to unfold at the client’s pace. This emotional growth is comparable to the growth and development of a child as it receives the nurturing love of a parent.

    In affirmation therapy, the therapist’s role can be likened to that of a parent—nurturing, loving, understanding, giving example, teaching moral truths according to the capacity and belief system of the client, and seeing to the individual’s intellectual, emotional, and spiritual needs.

    The therapeutic relationship involves a mutual sharing of the client’s life experiences, emotions, fears and anxieties, as well as an exploration of past and present as it relates to the symptomatology of the client. Most importantly, the therapist reveals the goodness of the client to the client through his or her gentle affective presence, which allows for the client’s emotional, intellectual and spiritual growth and allows the client’s symptoms to be outgrown and gradually disappear.

    Even though there are no “techniques” to learn in affirmation therapy, various strategies are used by the therapist:

    • Early relationships between the client and his or her parents and significant others are explored as necessary in order to understand the extent of affirmation that the client has received and any other factors that may affect healing.

    • The therapist teaches the client about the emotional life, especially about the importance of accepting all of one’s emotions as good and necessary to psychological wholeness.

    • The therapist gently guides the client’s emotional growth in a way that fosters a mature understanding of the emotional life and allows for an increased awareness and healthy integration of feelings and emotions.

    • The therapist pays close attention to the areas in which the client feels badly about himself or herself, inferior to others, distressed or discouraged, and gently teaches the client the fallacy of any erroneous or irrational beliefs without criticism or reprimand, disapproval or rejection.