WHAT IF I DON’T CHANGE?

by Joseph Nicolosi, Ph.D.

conversion and reparative therapy

Over the years, many men have come to my office for help in changing their sexual orientation. Homosexuality doesn't work in their lives. It just never feels right or true. To these men, it is clear that gay relationships don't reflect who they are as gendered beings, and that they have been designed--physically and emotionally--for opposite-sex coupling.

But reorientation therapy is a long and difficult process, with no guarantee of success. What if the man doesn't change? Will he have gained anything of value?

People are often surprised to hear that in reparative therapy, typically there is very little discussion about sex. In fact, it is a mistake for any psychotherapy to focus exclusively on one particular symptom. Clients come in with a difficulty that they want removed from their life--an eating disorder, gambling obsession, or unwanted same-sex attraction-- but good therapy addresses the whole person.

I typically tell my clients in the very first session, "Rule Number One is, never accept anything I say unless it resolates as true for you." The experience of the client, whatever that may be, must always trump any preconceived theory. Reparative theory holds that the origin of SSA is in unmet emotional and identification needs with the same sex, and the client is free to accept or reject that premise. If that doesn't feel true to him, he will usually decide to leave therapy after one or two sessions.

Through a relationship with an attuned therapist, the client discovers how it feels to emotionally disclose to another man--revealing those long-buried, shame-evoking feelings. He experiences from him a deep acceptance of wherever he is in his life, at that point in time, whether he changes or not. Such an experience is always deeply therapeutic.

Besides an enhanced ability to develop genuine male friendships, the client will discover healthier relationships with females-- where he learns to prohibit the boundary violations with women that may have caused him to surrender his separate, masculine selfhood.

But what about the client who fails to change; will he be left in a sort of "intimacy limbo" -- not heterosexual, yet unable to be intimate with men? The truth is, our client was never intimate with men. That is why he came to therapy. He also came to us because he believes that true sexual intimacy with a person of the same gender is, in fact, not possible: same-sex eroticism simply fails to match his biological and emotional design, and does not reflect who he is on the deepest level.

Other men enter reparative therapy as gay-identified from the start. With those clients, we agree on a precondition to our working together--that is, we will not address the issue of sexual-identity change, but we will work on all of their other problems in living. And so we work on issues like capacity for intimacy, problems with self-esteem, internalized shame, childhood trauma, and the search for identity.

Some of our clients decide to change course and embrace homosexuality as "who they are." Others never lose their conviction that they were designed to be heterosexual, and they persist toward that goal. Still others remain ambivalent about change, while going in and out of gay life over a period of months. We accept their choices even if we don't agree with them, because we accept the person.