So You Want to Be a Reparative Therapist....
by Joseph Nicolosi, Ph.D.
In recent years, I have been gratified to see an increasing number of graduate students interested in working with same-sex attracted (SSA) clients who seek change. Some of these young students struggled with this issue in their own personal lives, and now, they want to take the lessons they learned to help others.
"But is this work worth the price?" they ask.
In reply, I'd like to describe both the positives and the negatives.
People who cannot handle controversy "need not apply." You'll quickly learn to refrain from telling the friendly passenger sitting next to you on a plane, what you really do for a living. (You may well discover that this newfound acquaintance is not as open-minded as he seemed at first.) Ditto for cocktail parties. Some people will laud you as a modern-day hero, while others will intolerantly accuse you of intolerance--quite oblivious to that inherent contradiction. Prepare yourself to be misunderstood.
If you use the term "reparative therapy" to describe your approach, know that it's both a blessing and a curse. Taken literally, it may sound insulting (as in the idea of "repairing" someone, as you would fix a car). Yet that's not what the term really means. "Reparative" refers to the concept of homosexuality as a reparative drive, which is actually good news to for the client suffering with unwanted SSA. Many men were led to believe that their SSA reveals them to be "weird," "perverted," and "degenerate." But now, through the concept of reparative drive, they realize that their felt needs are a normal and healthy (although developmentally delayed) attempt to gain the gender bonding that they failed to get in childhood. Grasping the reparative-drive concept diminishes the client's shame and self-loathing, and it also lays out a positive blueprint for change; namely, through the acquisition of nonsexual masculine intimacy. All this requires considerable explanation, but to very many clients, it gradually begins to ring true as the story that explains their lives.
The client quickly discovers that the reparative therapist offers him a more profound acceptance than he has found in the gay community, where the # 1 taboo says, "Never ask why you're gay." (See my interview on the NARTH website with former gay activist Michael Glatze.). In contrast, in reparative therapy, the client is encouraged to openly investigate the emotional and bonding deficits of his childhood.
Another disadvantage...you'll be repeatedly frustrated to see the popular media misrepresent you and quote you out of context. Be prepared to be betrayed by that nice LA Times staff writer who calls your home, gets a half-hour of great quotes, and only uses one sentence--out of context...the very one that mischaracterizes you. Some time later, you may be absolutely convinced by the friendly Washington Post reporter that she, unlike the other reporters, really does want a fair and balanced story, so you bite the bait--believing that fairness will ultimately prevail. But then when the article comes out, you are outraged once again.
Here's another paradox: Expect that quite a few therapist-colleagues will privately encourage you and reassure you, "You're doing a great job." They admire your work and say they are on your side. But, they admit, "I could never say this publicly-- it would be too destructive to my career."
Possibly the most difficult negative is this: Expect to work sincerely with a hurting teenager who's exploring his sexual-identity options, who sincerely believes that humanity is designed for heterosexuality, and who does very well during the months he's with you. Then five years later, you find out that he's been elected president of his college's Gay and Lesbian Club--and, to your dismay, he now has a video on YouTube that trashes you and your work.
It's not unusual for young people who are questioning their sexuality to go back-and-forth one or two times before they settle on their sexual identity. The young client with whom you have a close and understanding relationship today, may very well find comfort and support with a newfound group of gay-activist friends, and then decide to publicly reject you and your ideas.
If you have not been discouraged by now, read on. The benefits do far outweigh the costs. You have the privilege of investigating and developing a new area of treatment that flies in the face of what the APA--under their current stranglehold of enforced silence about the origins of homosexuality--is trying to accomplish in this area. There's a counter-cultural satisfaction in achieving success in a field where political correctness reigns. (This satisfaction far outweighs the numbing outrage you feel each time you hear about another episode of the Oprah Winfrey Show.)
But most of all, you have the privilege of working in the most intimate way with idealistic men who are determined not to follow their unwanted feelings, but to fulfill their dream of a traditional marriage and family.
There is great satisfaction is seeing a man come into your consulting room for the first time after having lived a life of private torture; for years, he has struggled against his unwanted SSA, having no clue as to why it torments him so, or what he can do to help himself. As a victim of political correctness in the culture war, he was never offered another perspective about the origins of his SSA. His coming to you is the last step in the road, and in 45 minutes, he "knows that you know," and he begins to assemble all the little fragments of his life--the hurts, the confusion, the shame, the distractions, the pain, the alienation, the loneliness--and after he presents all these fragments, you, as his therapist, can step into the middle of all of it and help him sort it all out in a way that suddenly makes really profound sense, and has life-transforming effect. For the therapist, this work requires a level of self-giving and exquisite attunement that leaves us exhausted, yet paradoxically exhilarated, at the end of the day.
A powerful fringe benefit, at times when you feel discouraged and begin to believe that the debate will never be won, is receiving a letter in the mail with a picture enclosed of a bride and groom. The note inside says "thank you" from a man you worked with many years ago. Or, when you get a letter from a man who expresses his profound appreciation that you helped him save his decades-long marriage--after another psychologist had told him he was born homosexual and would only find peace if he left his wife and children to begin life anew with another man. In my desk drawer, I keep a collection of such letters and pictures to remind myself what the work is all about.
Indeed, we have the privilege of walking with many such clients to Hell and back.