Sexual Identity Therapy is Not Reparative Therapy

I have had to make this case several times over the years but the defensive posture of reparative therapists of late makes it necessary to do it again. As more people are coming against reparative drive theory, reparative therapists are softening and in some cases altering their rhetoric regarding what they believe and what they do. Note my posts here and here.

In a NBC News article last Wednesday, NARTH’s Executive Secretary David Pruden defends reparative therapy with a line of reasoning that doesn’t sound half bad.  He says

“Once people felt less shamed – and I think that’s really positive – there was less a feeling that they couldn’t talk about it,” Pruden said. But those who do want to minimize those feelings, Pruden said, “deserve to have their needs met as well.”

“To say to them, we’re not willing to walk alongside you in your journey feels to me as cruel as the other extremes we used to be at, when people were hurt for saying, ‘I’m gay, and I’m OK with that,’” Pruden said. “In a sense it’s a pro-choice movement – people should have the right to deal with this.”

Walking along side someone in a journey and acknowledging a client’s right to deal with conflict surrounding sexuality seems reasonable and fair.  However, that stance is not what is under attack in legislatures and court rooms around the country. If all reparative therapists did was support clients in exploration of their beliefs and values about their sexual orientation, then they would not be experiencing the scrutiny they are now.

What Pruden describes in this brief interview (and to be fair, he may have said more about change therapy that the reporter did not include) is similar to what Mark Yarhouse and I promote in the sexual identity therapy framework. We walk along side people who are struggling with conflicts involving their sexuality and moral beliefs. We do not offer change interventions and in fact stress that we do not see orientation change as the aim of the SITF.  I indicate to clients that the evidence does not support efforts to change orientation. I respect the rights of people to make behavioral choices in line with what they believe to be right and work with people to move in a moral direction they believe in. However, reparative therapists do so much more than that.

Check out what Joseph Nicolosi believes about homosexuality as stated in the NBC article. He gives the usual reparative narrative about weak fathers and overbearing mothers being the culprit and then to those who don’t want to take his therapy he says:

“We say, fine, you want to be gay, but are you curious in understanding why you’re gay?” Nicolosi said.

Reparative therapists think they know why people are gay and their interventions of building masculinity with journeys into manhood, complete with holding therapy, sports training, etc., are what attracts the ire of opponents. The reparative therapists have a hammer and to them every gay person is a nail. The reparative therapists on the Dr. Oz show last week seemed oblivious to the message being delivered by the reparative drive theory. Reparative therapy begins with the assumption that gays are disordered and in need of some kind of treatment to cure the underlying psychological damage which may (they don’t all promise that the proper therapy leads to complete change) then lead to a lessening of attraction to the same sex.  They compare being homosexual to being an addict, depressed or some other malady.

Walking along side someone does not require what reparative therapists do. Working with someone to work out an adjustment involving religious morality and sexual behavior does not require a belief that same-sex attraction is a disorder or the result of deficient families.

Let’s keep things straight, reparative therapy is one thing and sexual identity therapy is another.