Rubin’s Vase:

Focus of Reparative Therapy®

by Joseph Nicolosi, Ph.D.

The man who enters Reparative Therapy® does so because he is motivated to eliminate his unwanted homosexuality. However, as treatment proceeds, his focus shifts and broadens. Soon into therapy, he begins to metaphorically “see” that the structure of his same-sex attraction is formed by the “background” of his shame. As he learns more about himself, his focus shifts from his previous preoccupation with homoerotic temptations to what gives form and structure to those attractions.

We have all seen those visual illusions where the object suddenly becomes the background, and the background shifts into the object. The most famous is the “Rubin’s Vase Illusion,” in which Danish psychologist Edgar Rubin demonstrated that people can perceive either a vase, or profiles of two human faces gazing at one another-- but not both images at the same time. These optical illusion, or ‘eye tricks,” are based upon the fact that when both object and background share the same borders, the brain cannot hold two perceptual experiences at the same time, but rather shifts from one focus to the other (see below).


The two facial profiles are always more difficult to perceive than is the vase, simply because they form a background. So too, shame is difficult to “see” because it lurks in the background of the person’s day-to-day awareness. As one young man expressed it, “Shame is where I live. It’s my zip code.”

For many men, the healing of homosexuality necessitates understanding how the ever-present background of anticipatory shame gives “line” and “shape” to homosexual attractions. Deconstruction of that line and shape is best approached from the background perspective.

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