Who Invented the Therapy in Those Joseph Nicolosi Books Banned by Amazon?

Recently, Amazon stopped offering Joseph Nicolosi’s books for sale. Nicolosi, who died in 2017, was a polarizing figure in American psychology but was well liked among evangelicals. Evangelicals are writing about reparative therapy now like it was Christian counseling. I know they know it wasn’t but that is a subject for another post.

In this post, I want to publish an adaptation of two 2017 articles (here and here) in which I disclosed a rift in the reparative therapy movement between 1990 and 1996. There was a dispute over who originated the form of therapy later popularized as reparative therapy. This post lays out that dispute. If Elizabeth Moberly had her way in the early days, Nicolosi’s books might have been pulled because she believed they contained too much of her material without sufficient attribution. The ex-gay movement in the form of Exodus International sided with Nicolosi and the rest is history.

The following is adapted from posts which were originally published on January 19 & 20, 2017.

Elizabeth Moberly Accused Joseph Nicolosi of Taking Her Work

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.

Below is a brief letter to the editor exchange between Elizabeth Moberly and Joseph Nicolosi. While I don’t have permission to publish them, I also have some letters involving Dr. Moberly and the Exodus International board which reveals a six-year feud (1990-1996) 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

Thanks to the help of California Psychological Association administrator Patricia VanWoerkom, I was able to get Nicolosi article. An image of part of it is below. To read the entire article, click here.
Nicolosi CPA RT clip 2 89
In the article, Nicolosi says:
Nicolosi CPA article Moberly credit
In the piece, he provided the standard reparative explanation of homosexuality. According to this view, gays do not fully identify with the same sex parent. This gives rise to a defensive detachment which they seek to repair with same sex relationships. He gave credit to Moberly for her writings but this was not enough for her. In her pleas to the Exodus International board, Moberly claimed that Nicolosi was merely a practitioner of her reparative therapy approach. She felt Nicolosi’s article wasn’t just based on her theoretical writings, but that his entire approach was simply borrowed from her. From her point of view, he was not a developer or collaborator, but someone who simply copied what she had already discovered.

Moberly pointed out to the Exodus board that Nicolosi said he was the “author of one of those rumored treatments [to help gays change to straight].” Moberly countered that Nicolosi did not author anything. He simply copied what she had written and passed some of it off as his own work.

Ethics Complaint

According to Moberly, she filed an ethics complaint with the American Psychological Association and California Psychological Association. Only the CPA responded, she claimed, and found that Nicolosi had inadvertently copied her material. A CPA representative later told me that those records were sealed.

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 wants to remain anonymous) about the rift. The individual said the dispute was “common knowledge” among Exodus people. 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. Nicolosi and Moberly 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. In his 1991 book, Nicolosi did in fact cite one of Moberly’s books 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. Perhaps she would have written Amazon if it existed in 1991.

As to the specific question — who conceptually 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 appearances 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 key representative of reparative therapy. The reason his books are now being targeted is because he was the central figure in promoting the approach.

In the current scene, it doesn’t much matter who developed the concepts. People who oppose the books just want them gone. There is a certain irony that long ago the founder of reparative therapy also tried to prevent their promotion.

 

Reparative Therapy and Joseph Nicolosi Remembered

In an offbeat selection for “The Lives They Lived” section of the New York Time Magazine, Joseph Nicolosi is remembered by Benoit Denizet-Joseph NicolosiLewis as an “artist, innovator and thinker” who died in 2017.
I had a few things to say about Nicolosi when he passed, and a lot to say about reparative therapy during his life. This piece provides a view of a side of Nicolosi that I saw often — he simply could not be convinced that he could be wrong.

Joseph Nicolosi, Alan Chambers, and the 99.9% Claim

In 2012, I wrote about one of the incidents referred to in the NYT piece. In the article, Denizet-Lewis referred to former ex-gay ministry leader Alan Chambers’ dramatic and unexpected declaration that 99.9% of people who tried to change sexual orientation had not experienced a change. That was first reported on this blog in January, 2012.  Chambers made that statement at a conference of the Gay Christian Network. Causing an earthquake in the ex-gay world, Chambers said:

The majority of people that I have met, and I would say the majority meaning 99.9% of them have not experienced a change in their orientation or have gotten to a place where they could say that they could  never be tempted or are not tempted in some way or experience some level of same-sex attraction. I think there is a gender issue there, there are some women who have challenged me and said that my orientation or my attractions have changed completely. Those have been few and far between. The vast majority of people that I know will experience some level of same-sex attraction.

Denizet-Lewis makes it seem as though Nicolosi’s initial offer of a cure came in response to that statement. However, Chambers and Nicolosi had been disputing results since at least the year before.
The now inactive but enormously influential blog, ExGay Watch (here is my summary of that post) carried a story about an online dispute between Chambers and Nicolosi which began in 2011. In an email exchange, Nicolosi chastised Chambers for saying in an April 2011 Dr. Drew Show appearance that Chambers continued to experience attractions to the same sex. Nicolosi then offered to cure Chambers completely. Here is one of those emails:

Alan,
I have not seen yet your appearance on the T.V. show and of course, I always know how unfair and stressful these events are. But again, it is such a disservice to represent the alternative to gay but stating you are still struggling. It is not a very inspiring option to the many young people who may be hearing your message.
The point Alan is that you can get to a place where there is no more homosexuality. Really.
You can actually get to a place where you can willfully (sic) think of an SSA image and have no bodily sensation.
Why stop half way? Why not do further work and finish the task and have it completely behind you. consider this invitation, not only for your sake but also as a testimony of complete healing to truly motivate others.
We have the therapeutic tools to get you over what ever SSA is remaining.
You know I am your friend. I am willing to help you. I’ll work with you personally if you like.
Please consider this invitation I offer you as a brother (O.K., a Catholic brother) in Christ.
Joe
Joseph Nicolosi, Ph.D.
www.josephnicolosi.com
[emphasis in the original]

As Chambers told Denizet-Lewis in the NYT article, he rebuffed Nicolosi’s offer as unrealistic and unattainable.

He’ll Be Fine

Nicolosi believed male homosexuals experienced attractions to the same sex because they were estranged from their fathers. He simply would not accept the fact that many gay males have loving and close fathers. Even when confronted with fathers and sons who were obviously close, he picked at them until he found something he could dispute in their relationship. I worked with several families who were survivors of this kind of treatment.
On one occasion in a meeting with Nicolosi, I described a young man to who came out to his father first because he was close to his dad and knew he would understand. They were close all through school and when he came out, it was only natural for him to tell his dad. The young man was into sports and quite masculine in every way. In short, he was everything that Nicolosi claimed that a gay male could not be. When I was finished with my description, Nicolosi said, “He’ll be fine.” I asked what he meant. “He’s not gay; he’ll be fine,” he said. He indicated that the young man must be confused or having a stage but since he had such a good foundation, he couldn’t possibly be gay.
I realized at that point that it was probably hopeless to use evidence. Confirmation bias was strong with him, perhaps as strong as I have ever seen.

Reparative Therapy Pioneer Joseph Nicolosi, Dead at 70

NIcolosi
Joseph Nicolosi

I was saddened just now to read in the Daily Beast that Joe Nicolosi died suddenly early this morning.  The Beast cited the Facebook page of Nicolosi’s clinic, the Thomas Aquinas Psychological Clinic in Encino, CA for the news. According to the note, posted earlier this afternoon:

We are deeply saddened and shocked to announce the death of Dr. Joseph Nicolosi yesterday in California from complications from the flu.

My condolences to his wife Linda and son Joseph, Jr.
The illness must have come upon him quickly; I know someone who spoke to him just recently. As always, he was vigorously defending his ideas.
We disagreed about a great many things, but I can say to his credit that he cared deeply about his family, his work, and his clients.
Nicolosi was the co-founder with Charles Socarides and Ben Kaufman of the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) in 1992. Along with Focus on the Family and Exodus International, NARTH was a third of the ex-gay movement’s trinity. Nicolosi spoke frequently at Exodus conferences and was for many years the featured speaker at Focus on the Family’s Love Won Out traveling ex-gay conference.
Nicolosi adapted psychoanalytic ideas from Elizabeth Moberly and others to promote what he considered to be a therapeutic approach to sexual orientation change. He was most interested in the formation of male homosexuality and believed distant fathers and overbearing mothers together created a family triad which greatly increased the chances that a male child would become gay. Even as neurological and family studies called his work into question, Nicolosi defended his ideas via media appearances and his organization NARTH. At his death, Nicolosi was in the middle of a research project with psychologist Carolyn Pela.
In response to reports of harm from Nicolosi’s theories and practice, many gay rights advocates made ending reparative therapy a prime objective. Currently, five states, DC and several cities have banned reparative therapy for minors.
This evening Nicolosi’s wife Linda released a statement on the clinic Facebook page.

New Sexual Reorientation Study Off to a Shaky Start; Michael Bailey's Brain Scan Offer is Still Good

After the closing of Exodus International, the wind went out of the sexual reorientation sails. In June of last year, former ex-gay organization Exodus International leader Alan Chambers said the movement was “gasping for air.”
However, a quiet breeze may be blowing still as demonstrated by a study being conducted by one of the luminaries of reparative therapy, Joseph Nicolosi and relative newcomer Carolyn Pela.  Nicolosi and Pela summarized their preliminary findings at a meeting of the Christian Association for Psychological Studies a year ago. Nicolosi described the study on his website:

Dr. Pela described the study as being longitudinal with a within-group repeated-measures design.  Their dependent variable was psychotherapy as conducted at Dr. Nicolosi’s Thomas Aquinas Psychological Clinic.  The independent variables were (1) well-being as operationalized by the Outcome Questionnaire 45 (OQ-45.2), a highly respected measure of psychotherapy process and outcome, and (2) separately assessed dimensions of sexual orientation, namely, thoughts, desires, behavior, and identity.  Data collected to date involved 102 male psychotherapy clients who presented with ambivalence, discomfort, or distress regarding their SSA.  Eighty-one participants had been involved in the study long enough to have well-being assessed and data on change were available from 56 participants at the time of the CAPS presentation.

I am pretty sure the dependent and independent variables are reversed in his description. The independent variable is what is manipulated in an experiment and the dependent variable is a measure of results (see this brief explanation). That problem aside, what did they find?

Findings from preliminary data collected over a 12 month period indicated statistically significant reductions in distress and improvements in well-being, significant movement toward heterosexual identity, and significant increases in heterosexual thoughts and desires with accompanying significant decreases in homosexual thoughts and desires.  Effect sizes for these changes were generally in the moderate range, which suggests they are robust and not likely to be statistical artifacts.  The findings did not discover significant change in heterosexual or homosexual kissing or sexual activity.  These findings appear to have been the result of very low base rates in these behaviors among study participants leading to floor effects and a subsequent lack of change, as it is not possible to change a behavior in which participants are not engaging.

To summarize, the participants were thinking straighter but not doing anything about it.
To me, this result is understandable. If one is in treatment with the stated goal to think more about heterosexual outcomes, then there would be strong motivation to produce those experiences when asked. However, the test for any actual change will be when therapy is over and the regular rehearsal of such ideas isn’t happening. The difference between process changes (how a client feels during therapy) and outcome changes (what remains after therapy is over) is often great. Reorientation therapy studies are filled with people who said they had changed during the study but then felt differently months or years later. Thus, follow up must be a key component of any therapy study.
It should be pointed out that this study isn’t a true experiment since there is no control group. There isn’t a way to test for the effect of the passing of time. Spontaneous fluidity has been reported and it isn’t clear without a control group that psychotherapy is responsible for any change that is reported (or to what degree the therapy is responsible). Without a long term follow up and a control group, this study won’t provide much more information than we already have.
Finally, if Nicoloso and Pela truly want a potent and believable pre and post measurement, they should take Northwestern University professor Michael Bailey’s offer to conduct brain scans of the participants. Some years ago, Bailey informed Nicolosi that he could bring his patients to the lab to test their automatic responses to erotic cues. Nicolosi never took him up on the offer. I recently asked Bailey if the offer was still good. He answered in the affirmative. Pre (or even mid) treatment scans compared with post-treatment scans would help to offset the lack of a control group.
 

Who Founded Reparative Therapy? Part Two

Yesterday, I described a conflict within the ex-gay movement about who founded reparative therapy. The dispute took place between 1989 and 1996 and involved Elizabeth Moberly, Joseph Nicolosi and the board of now closed Exodus International.
In the post yesterday, I published two letters to the editor, one from Moberly accusing Nicolosi of inadequately citing her work in a February 1989 California Psychologist article on reparative therapy. The other letter came from Nicolosi and claimed his work was different from Moberly’s.
Thanks to the help of California Psychological Association administrator Patricia VanWoerkom, I am able to publish the Nicolosi article. An image of part of it is below. To read the entire article, click here.
Nicolosi CPA RT clip 2 89
In the article, Nicolosi says:
Nicolosi CPA article Moberly credit
He gives credit to Moberly for her writings but this was not enough for her. In her pleas to the Exodus International board, Moberly claims that Nicolosi was merely a practitioner of her reparative therapy approach. She felt Nicolosi’s article wasn’t just based on her theoretical writings but that his entire approach was simply borrowed from her. From her point of view, he was not a developer or collaborator but someone who simply copied what she had already discovered.
Moberly pointed out to the Exodus board that Nicolosi said he was the “author of one of those rumored treatments [to help gays change to straight].” Moberly countered that Nicolosi did not author anything. He simply copied what she had written and passed some of it off as his own work.
According to Moberly, she filed an ethics complaint with the APA and CPA. Only the CPA responded, she claimed, and found that Nicolosi had inadvertently copied her material. I have reached out again to the CPA and in a future post hope to be to confirm or deny Moberly’s claim.
 

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 Jersey Judge Says Gay Cure Claim is Fraud

Recognizing the position of all mental health organizations, a New Jersey judge said yesterday it is consumer fraud to claim homosexuality is a disease which can be cured.
Judge Peter Barsio, Jr. wrote:

It is a misrepresentation in violation of the CFA (Consumer Fraud Act), in advertising or selling conversion therapy services to describe homosexuality, not as being a normal variation of human sexuality, but as being a mental illness, disease, disorder, or equivalent.

Reparative therapists hold that attractions to the same sex represent a disordered state due to deficits in parenting. These theories have been discredited long ago but reparative therapists have held on to them. Given that therapists offer a service to consumers, consumer protection law has been used in the New Jersey case against JONAH to address the fraudulent claims.
JONAH claims not to offer therapy but I suspect testimony will establish that they do (or at least did). I know that JONAH historically has promoted reparative therapy which has parental fault at the center of the causal narrative. I have seen many families torn up over the reparative theory.
 
 
 
 

BBC's Stephen Fry Interviews Joseph Nicolosi

Stephen Fry of the BBC interviews Jospeh Nicolosi and a former patient (Dan Gonzales).
Nicolosi: “We resolve the conflicts behind the homosexual attractions, that’s what we do.”
Nicolosi covers familiar ground in that he claims homosexuality is the result of psychological trauma with the parents, particularly the father.
He still insists without any evidence that one-third are not cured, one-third gets some improvement and one-third experience significant change.
Sixty percent of his clients are teens.
Fry acknowledges that his dad was aloof but his dad was aloof with his brother, who is straight, as well.
Metrosexual?

NYT and reparative therapy: The names are different but the narrative is the same

Reading this New York Times article was like deja vu all over again.

My first reaction to this article on ex-gays was that the names are different but the narrative is the same. Some men report changes in their sexual feelings and then therapists like Joseph Nicolosi apply that self-report to all gays. Note his statement that nobody is really gay. A few men, probably bisexuals, experience a shift in their current attractions and all of a sudden no one is gay. The fluidity that some people experience as a part of their personality is exploited by those who desperately want to pretend that all gays are made by parenting mistakes.

Another reaction I had was to wonder why the reporter did not go into the history of ex-gay claims. Many people over the years have made similar claims only to later say they were mistaken or that they had not really changed.

And then I feel sorry for Mr. Swaim.

Emails Contradict Dr. Nicolosi’s Conflicting Claims of Cure

Earlier this week, I posted audio of Dr. Joseph Nicolosi talking about using porn in reparative therapy as a technique. A dispute had arisen between Exodus President Alan Chambers and Nicolosi about the use of porn in reparative therapy. In my view, the audio and rejected workshop description decided Round One in favor of Chambers. (See this post for the scoop)

Now, it looks like Round Two goes to Chambers as well. ExgayWatch has posted an email from Nicolosi where he explicitly promises cure to Alan Chambers.  Recall Alan claims that reparative therapists promise 100% cures. Nicolosi contested that in a Facebook posting saying:

Alan, what you are saying is untrue. I have never said I could cure someone completely from homosexuality. All my books make it quite clear that homosexual attractions will persist to some degree throughout a person’s lifetime.

Never say never.

In the email obtained by XGW, Nicolosi told Chambers that he could cure him 100%. After Chambers acknowledged on the Dr. Drew show that he could still find men attractive, Nicolosi wrote this (and more, go read the whole thing):

The point Alan is that you can get to a place where there is no more homosexuality. ReallyYou can actually get to a place where you can willfully (sic) think of an SSA image and have no bodily sensation.

Why stop half way? Why not do further work and finish the task and have it completely behind you. consider this invitation, not only for your sake but also as a testimony of complete healing to truly motivate others.

We have the therapeutic tools to get you over what ever SSA is remaining. (emphasis in the original email)

This is not that surprising to me. I attended three NARTH conferences (2002-2004) and I heard various reparative therapists make these claims. Various ex-gays would come out and say that. Part of the reason I believed the folks in the documentary I Do Exist was because I was hearing these claims made often. Time has told a different tale.

Also, other reports have come along where Nicolosi is quoted making grand claims. Take this one from 2009 – Nicolosi Claims 75% Cured.

Last week I blogged about a homosexuality conference in London hosted by the conservative Anglican Mainstream, and featuring Joseph Nicolosi, Jeff Satinover and Arthur Goldberg. One attendee was David Virtue who runs Virtueonline.com. His website is popular among conservative Anglicans. Virtue had much to say about the conference but one quote stood out. The quotes within this segment of Virtue’s article come from Nicolosi.

Nicolosi said he has been helping people to “increase their heterosexual potential” for 25 years, and puts his success rate among men at about two out of three. “75% of our clients are completely cured, the 25% who are not usually have other factors that are not brought into the counseling situation.”

“It is not the absent father, but the non-responsiveness of the father. It is when the father shuts downs and rejects the boy’s masculine striving and he shames the boy in his strivings to become a man. That boy will find some male to connect with. It is the negative experience of the father that destroys him and pushes him towards men who offer him homosexual sex as a way out.”

Virtue is not a critic and would not have a reason to lie. However, even though Virtue confirmed to me that Nicolosi said those words, he later changed the article to remove the reference to 75% cure at the request of Nicolosi’s wife – who was not at the conference.

Nicolosi is not the only one who makes wishful claims, it seems to be part of the genre. I can recall Richard Cohen doing the same thing, telling an audience once, that his clients, “never go back.”

I have been criticized by many (some of whom are not now doing so), for stealing hope from people as a consequence of my realistic approach to this area. I make no apology for it. Reality is what it is. We have to adapt. Following one’s values and beliefs does not rest on false hope or wishful thinking.