From the Archives: Who Founded Reparative Therapy?

Once upon a time, I wrote frequently about sexual orientation, psychotherapy, and the culture wars that have raged about those topics. A review of my blog posts since I started in 2005 would be like reading a history of the ex-gay movement, reparative therapy, sexual orientation change efforts and many related matters. Even though general interest has diminished about gay change efforts since the close of Exodus International, I have some stories still to explore.

Today, I want to post a brief letter to the editor exchange between Elizabeth Moberly and Joseph Nicolosi. While I can’t publish them, I also have some letters involving Dr. Moberly and the Exodus International board which reveals a six-year feud between Moberly and Nicolosi over who founded reparative therapy.  Moberly strongly asserted that Joe Nicolosi plagiarized portions of her work and took credit for the development of reparative therapy which she believed rightly belonged to her.

First, here is the letters to the editor of the California Psychologist (Jan, 1990).
Moberly Nicolosi LtE Cal Psyc 1990
I started to explore this several years ago but got sidetracked. I think the founding of modern day reparative therapy is an interesting historical issue. Some time ago, I asked a former Exodus board member (who desires anonymity) about the rift. The individual said the dispute was “common knowledge” among Exodus people. In essence, my source said

Elizabeth believed that Joe’s reparative therapy concept belonged to her as reported in her research work in Psychogenesis and Homosexuality: A New Christian Ethic, and that Joe had not given sufficient acknowledgment to her work; and (2) that Joe believed he had referenced her work adequately and had taken her concepts and built upon them sufficiently to justify reporting on his own work in his book Reparative Therapy.

This individual was on the Exodus board at the time and made contacts with both Nicolosi and Moberly to try to resolve their differences. According to my source, the effort was unsuccessful. They did not come to unity over the issues. In 1996, Moberly left the ex-gay movement to return to England to conduct research into alternative treatments for AIDS and cancer. I tried to contact her in 2011 but received no reply.

Moberly’s books on reparative therapy were published in the early 1980s. According to Moberly, Nicolosi was introduced to her work via a client and he began using her approach in the late 1980s. Moberly was exasperated that Nicolosi published his first book on the subject in 1991 without giving her what she felt was sufficient credit. Nicolosi did in fact cite one of Moberly’s books in the 1991 book and gave her credit for the concept of defensive detachment. However, Moberly felt that was insufficient. She pulled out of speaking for at least one of the Exodus conferences because she believed Exodus should not have promoted Nicolosi’s book.

I haven’t made up my mind yet what I think about it and am still researching it. Clearly she came first with the core concepts of reparative therapy (i.e., homosexual behavior represents a reaction to a same-sex parent wound during development leading to a reparative drive to connect with same-sex love objects). On the other hand, Nicolosi did cite at least one of her books and specifically referred to her in his book.

As to the specific question — who founded reparative therapy? — I think the answer must be Elizabeth Moberly. She wrote first about all of the key concepts and described the kind of therapeutic relationship that reparative therapists, including Nicolosi, have promoted. Without question, Nicolosi popularized reparative therapy through his books, the organization he co-founded (NARTH), and via the vocal support of Exodus International and Focus on the Family. His appearance with James Dobson on the Focus on the Family radio show and subsequent role as featured speaker at FoF’s Love Won Out conferences solidified Nicolosi’s enduring role as representative of reparative therapy.

As time permits, I will post more information from the archives on this topic in the coming weeks.

New Ex-gay Group Kicking It Old Skool

A new-old ex-Exodus association will hold their first conference September 21-22, 2012 at Sunrise Community Church at Orangevale, CA. The keynote speakers will be Dr. Robert Gagnon, Frank Worthen and Andrew Comiskey. The group has a statement of principles which begins with: “Sexual purity is a life-and-death matter.”

You can also follow along the developments at Restored Hope’s Facebook page.

It is fascinating to watch these developments. My guess is that PFOX and NARTH will line up with this group as a replacement for Exodus. Will Restored Hope go political? My guess is that there will be overtures from social conservative groups to attend marriage rallies, testify on legislation, etc.

The conflict between the change and congruence paradigms has been brewing for awhile. This development just makes it explicit.

 

 

 

Charisma recycles 2004 article, gets lots of attention, then goes away. Alan, at the beach, knows nothing about it

Charisma Magazine generated an internet thunderstorm today by updating and reprinting a 2004 article by Alan Chambers titled, Do We Want a Gay America? Charisma put it on the front page of their webpage with no notice that it was a reprint.

RightWingWatch (who has the article in full) picked up on it and then various gay blogs followed. I started seeing emails and tweets about two hours ago. Then ExGayWatch and BoxTurtleBulletin reported that the article was a reprint. BTB editor Jim Burroway just tweeted that a woman at Charisma told him they were looking into it.

Meanwhile, Alan Chambers tweeted that he was at the beach and didn’t know anything about it, saying

Breaking: No idea why @charismamag pulled out an 8 year old piece I wrote that doesn’t reflect my current views.

Charisma has blocked access to the article.

All of that in a matter of hours. I would say Charisma has got some explaining to do.

UPDATE: Alan just sent this note along:

I am on the beach, literally, with my family enjoying the dog days of summer.  I have no idea why Charisma decided to reach so deep, edit and republish an 8 year old article that I am embarrassed that I ever wrote.  Our PR team has asked them to remove the article and not to repost it.  When I am back in town I will contact them, as well.

New York Times on the Changes at Exodus

Friday night at the evangelical fights.

After the NPR segment comes this New York Times article which covers much the same ground.

It cannot be any clearer; Alan Chambers is leading Exodus from the wilderness of reparative therapy to the promised land of Grace and soul liberty.

What a ride.

Conservatives in the church and elsewhere should welcome this. There is no necessary conservative attachment to reparative therapy. In fact, given the psychoanalytic roots of the model, it has surprised me that conservative Christians have bought into it for as long they have.

 

Exodus Publicly Backs Away From Reparative Therapy

If you’ve been reading here, you would know this.

An AP story is all over the place yesterday and today with the headline that Exodus has removed reparative therapy books from the website, and is no longer promoting change therapy. According to Alan Chambers, Exodus President, “the ministry’s emphasis should be simply helping Christians who want to reconcile their own particular religious beliefs with sexual feelings they consider an affront to scripture.”

Again, no surprise to anyone who reads here regularly, I think he is on target.

I must admit, this is satisfying. When I first dropped my article in 2005 questioning reparative therapy, I was beaten up pretty badly by those in what was the ex-gay movement at the time. Things have changed. Focus on the Family is out of the reparative business for the most part. Exodus is now working on congruence as a goal, and NARTH is fighting for its life. And the APA has taken a position that congruence as an objective is acceptable.

Speaking of NARTH, the AP article says is “a professional association made up of about 2,000 therapists and others who still espouse such treatments.”

Wait, what? 2,000?

Did they gain 1,000 members in less than a year? In October, 2011, I asked David Pruden at NARTH how many professional members were on the rolls. He told me the number was at 250, with the remaining 750 or so being advocates and laypeople.  Is this puffery or have they gained 1,000 names since last October?

UPDATE: David Pruden just wrote to say that he did not tell the reporter 2k so perhaps it was a misunderstanding.

 

Is Exodus International set to rebrand?

Article at Exgaywatch this morning:

Exclusive: Secret Conference Held to ‘Save Exodus International’ from Ruin

The crux of the article is this:

Exodus President Alan Chambers called a meeting together this past November 16. The subject was quite simply how to keep Exodus International from social and financial oblivion. In attendance were Exodus leadership, prominent religious leaders (such as Gabe Lyons) and lay people. The latter were mostly those who once counted themselves in the ex-gay camp but now are either in the process of changing their views or are fully gay affirming.

Go read the details at the link above.

Gabe Lyons is the co-author of unChristian, a book which documented the widespread perception that evangelicals are known for their anti-gay attitudes.

This is worth watching.

First study to refer to ex-gays discredited

In 2000, I presented a paper at the annual conference of the American Psychological Association outlining studies which referred to ex-gays, i.e., people who rejected gay as an identity for religious reasons. That presentation was part of a larger symposium organized by Mark Yarhouse and Doug Haldeman on religious and GLB issues. In 2002, that paper was published in the APA journal Professional Psychology: Research and Practice.* That was the same year I was given the Freud Award at the NARTH conference.
In that paper, I summarized a study by psychiatrist E. Mansell Pattison and his wife Myrna Loy Pattison, titled “‘Ex-gays’: Religiously Mediated Change in Homosexuals.” The Pattisons interviewed 11 men in the Melodyland church in Anaheim, CA who claimed to have changed from gay to straight. One of those men was frequent commenter here Michael Bussee. Another was Gary Cooper, the man who left that ministry and Exodus with Bussee when they both acknowledged that they had not changed their orientation. In other words, two of the 11 had not changed at all.
Today, on the Religion Dispatches website, I describe that study in more detail and interview Michael Bussee about his participation. I encourage you to go read it and comment here or there.
The study continues to be used by NARTH as well as other groups to claim sexual reorientation works. The problems with the study provide more evidence that NARTH’s use of old data (125 year landscape review) is flawed.
*Throckmorton, W. (2002). Initial empirical and clinical findings concerning the change process for ex-gays. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 33, 242-248.

MN Parents Action League Obstructs Bullying Prevention with Help of Ex-Gay Groups

Today, the New York Times examined the conflict in the Anoka-Hennepin school district over bullying prevention. The school district in Michele Bachmann’s Congressional district has lost eight students to suicide in the last two years. Critics of the district say that some of the suicides are due to anti-gay bullying and want the school district to renounce a policy of neutrality toward discussions of sexual orientation. A parent’s group, using ex-gay literature and arguments, is fighting to keep the policy in place.
Although not named in the article, the group is called the Parents Action League.  They claim to disapprove of bullying for any reason; however, I believe they are a part of the problem. Their website does not do what they claim — “to…equip citizens with current and accurate information” — and in fact adds to harmful sterotyping of GLB people.
You can read what they have to say about homosexuality on their FAQs page. Most of it is outdated criticisms of old studies. I have addressed these issues in prior posts. My focus now is to point out what appears to me to be the real focus of this group. One of the questions asked and answered is:

If we don’t approve of homosexual behavior and affirm same-sex attraction, won’t we be causing depression and unhappiness for “gay” teens?
On the contrary, when a child has been deliberately misinformed about the causes of homosexuality and told that homosexual acts are normal and natural, all hope for recovery is taken away.  Hopelessness can lead to depression and affect a child’s ability to be happy.  If we really love someone, we’ll tell him or her the truth that change is possible.

After deliberately misinforming their readers about homosexuality, the PAL people then get to their bottom line. The depression felt by bullied kids at Anoka-Hennepin is not due to disapproval and vilification, it is due to the fact that no one has given you the ex-gay message – change is possible.
PAL claims it wants a neutrality policy but it really doesn’t. PAL people want kids told that there is hope for change. Not neutral; and mostly wrong.
As I wrote on the CNN Belief Blog last year, I believe the school should name the problem and specifically forbid bullying based on real or perceived sexual orientation. The Olweus Bullying prevention program should be implemented.
I also believe that groups like NARTH and Exodus should take some responsibility for the information they promote. Speaking directly to NARTH and Exodus: Parent’s are obstructing the well being of children because of the information you disseminate. You promote change as happening more frequently than it actually does, and I believe you know it.  Many people do decide to channel their actions in alignment with their beliefs, but it is infrequent that someone goes from gay to straight in attractions, fantasies and actions. You should end your silence and communicate the real situation to these groups. Part of the reason they obstruct progress in addressing bullying is because of the distorted narrative you have helped to create.
I believe there are caring people with the PAL, but they think that being attracted to the same sex is due to deliberate choice of a lifestyle or the result of bad parenting or a wicked culture. If they knew that many same-sex attracted kids have great loving parents, attend church, live moral lives and are simply trying to understand what is happening to them, they might become part of the solution and not the problem. Why do PAL people think what they think? Many reasons probably, but the intellectual source nearly always comes back to NARTH or Exodus.
UPDATE: To be consistent, I need to add Mission America, PFOX, Focus on the Family and the American College of Pediatricians to the two groups listed above. Regarding Exodus, there is only one item (Janet Boynes’ book) directly related to an Exodus affiliate. However, the organization does offer for sale books which are listed on the PAL website, including Joseph Nicolosi’s Parents Guide to Preventing Homosexuality.
I have received several emails on this post, most supporting this call for groups to evaluate how their message is working against bullying prevention. A couple have criticized me saying that I advocate censorship of a valid point of view.  I don’t see it that way. I see it as advocating responsibility. When a group like PAL is using the belief that gays are by definition disordered, depressed and the products of bad parenting and/or abuse in order to offset bullying prevention efforts, then I think it is time to re-evaluate the situation.

Willow Creek Church under the guns

On a smaller scale, I know how Willow feels.
Reminds me of that old Steelers Wheels’ song:

Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right,
Here I am, stuck in the middle with you.

So the Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz declined to speak at Willow Creek Church’s Leadership Summit because the church once affiliated with Exodus International. A petition at Change.org with just under 800 signatures provoked the CEO to change his plans. I must admit I am puzzled over this. I can understand a gay activist viewing Exodus as a gay change organization but the relationship with Willow Creek ended in 2009.
Now here is why the title of the post says that Willow is under more than one gun. At the same time the Change.org petition took Willow to task for ever being affiliated with Exodus, Peter LaBarbera is protesting, with a sign and everything, outside the church’s Leadership conference because Willow broke with Exodus.
What is odd about AFTAH’s protest is that Exodus has not been particularly high on AFTAH’s list of groups either. In 2010, AFTAH accused Exodus of capitulating to gay interests when they dropped the Day of Truth.
Through all of this, Willow Creek reacted in a pretty classy manner. Bill Hybels gave praise to Schultz, wants to meet with the Change.org people and to my knowledge has said nothing about AFTAH’s sign. He maintained his beliefs, repeated his view that all people are welcome at Willow and even said buy Starbucks coffee.
Clearly, in America, there is tension between gay rights and traditional religious views of sexuality and we are sorting all of this out in real  time.  Regarding this particular dust up, I think Willow could have handled the break with Exodus better. I think it should have been made public when it happened and clear reasons given. Also, when it did come to light, they did not comment about accusations that they had gone soft on homosexuality, nor make it clear what the issues were.
However, in the present, I like how Hybels handled Schultz’s decision. Reacting with grace is a much better reflection of what he says he believes than retaliation or defensiveness.

Exodus International drops Day of Truth

Exodus International announced today that the organization will no longer sponsor the Day of Truth (website has been disabled). In an article on CNN’s Belief’s Blog posted by Dan Gilgoff, Exodus leader, Alan Chambers tells the tale:

“All the recent attention to bullying helped us realize that we need to equip kids to live out biblical tolerance and grace while treating their neighbors as they’d like to be treated, whether they agree with them or not,” said Alan Chambers, President of Exodus International, the group that sponsored the event this year.

Probably surprised by the move, GLSEN’s Eliza Byard welcomed the news.

“I thank Exodus for making this very important step,” said GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard on Wednesday after hearing of Exodus’ decision. “The Day of Truth was an effort to push a very specific set of opinions about homosexuality into schools in a way that was inappropriate and divisive.”

On the Day of Truth, middle and high school students are encouraged to wear Day of Truth T-shirts and to distribute cards that say “It’s time for an honest conversation about the biblical truth for sexuality,” according to Exodus’ manual for this year’s event.

“I don’t think it’s necessary anymore,” Chambers said of the event on Wednesday. “We want to help the church to be respectful of all its neighbors, to help those who want help and to be compassionate toward people who may hold a different worldview from us.”

As I noted in the article, I think this is a very significant move. Over the past three years, I have been documenting a split in the evangelical world over how to relate to the gay community. With this decision, Exodus has moved even farther away from the side of fear and stigma. I welcome it as quite consistent with the article I wrote yesterday for CNN.