A reader recently asked what I think of reparative therapy — therapy aimed specifically at getting the gay out, so to speak.

I’m not too sure. I’m not a fan of the name, first of all. All therapy is reparative therapy, ‘cuz we’re all broken,1 so calling this kind reparative therapy is a little like saying: Yeah, but you’re a mess! You like dudes!

There’s also such a thing as too much self-improvement. For a long time, I focused so much on fixing my faults and idiosyncracies — I don’t mean the SSA, I mean other stuff — that I was wearing myself out, twisting myself into unnatural positions.2 I didn’t stop short, for example, at facing my fears: I’d do things like going to play basketball just because it scared the poop out of me, or trying to develop a friendship with a man just because he was kind the man who I find intimidating.

Facing your fears is good and necessary. I’ve faced a lot of them, and it has helped me live more freely. But it isn’t what life is about, and it is easy to get hung up on the process. You shouldn’t let fear stop you from playing basketball — unless you just plain don’t like basketball. You shouldn’t let fear stop you from finding a new friend — unless you don’t particularly like the guy. It can be a hard balance to find, and I’m still struggling with it.3

Now that I’ve got the disclaimers out of the way: there are therapists and organizations out there who have a balanced view of the issue. I think People Can Change is one of them.

They, and the healing weekend they run, focus on dealing with what they see as the root causes of SSA: isolation, father-hunger, shame, rejection. They are geared towards dealing with these things. Whether or not you believe that these issues play a part in the development of SSA,4 I don’t think anyone will say that dealing with them is unhealthy.

So, seriously, check them out!5 I don’t like everything about them, but take a look and see what resonates. Once I get around to adding a “recommended resources” section — hey, I have a full-time job, and this ain’t it — they’ll be first on the list.

1 There is a crack, a crack in everything; / That’s how the light gets in. — Leonard Cohen
2 Cut it out. Dirty mind.
3 I recently told my older brother that Sure, I’d come play basketball with him, but/because I’m kind of terrified of it. He said: You’ll have plenty of opportunities in life to deal with being terrified. No need to invent them. Then he asked if I’d like to come to dinner; his wife was making enchiladas. “Unless, of course,” he added, “you’re terrified of enchiladas.” See, this is what older brothers are for: wisdom and mockery, within a sentence of each other.
4 And whether or not the phrase “the development of SSA” makes sense to you at all. Cue, I suppose, Lady Gaga.
5 If you heard this in Strongbad’s voice, then can we be friends?

37 thoughts on “If It Ain’t Baroque

  1. Fr. B

    Hmm. I’m of similar mindset regarding this. We can’t force anyone to go through any sort of therapy. I think it has worked for people, but I don’t think it will work for everyone. Regarding the site that you posted (People Can Change) I find it highly suspect that they get such good results after 48 hours of therapy. I just don’t see it happening that fast (click their surveys to know what I mean). I’m curious how soon after the weekend this survey was given and if the same results would repeat itself if they surveyed the same group 10 years from now.

    Still, I support any man who wants to pursue this type of treatment and I’m willing to walk with him through any of the successes or failures he might have as a result of the attempt.

    Reply
  2. MhariDubh

    I would warn people to be very, very careful of so-called “reparative therapy” and “ex-gay ministries”. One of my friends who struggled and struggled and struggled through high-school and college (until he dropped out) got wound up in these groups. The number they did on him was … I have no words…it was terrible.

    Reply
  3. Troy

    yes, we can be friends. When I saw the title of this post I was going to ask you the same thing.

    I’m Troy, I’m a high school student from FL, and SSA is one of the few things I don’t struggle with. Pleased to meet you!

    Reply
  4. Dante

    Definitely NOT a fan of reparative therapy though I like your reasons as to why you dislike the term. I see it primarily as a way heterosexuals can further their dislike for homsexuals while disguising it as a tender work of mercy. Most of those I know who have tried some form of it come out with very negative experiences.

    In the same vein, I would add that I also dislike the qualifier “disorder” or “disordered” when used most exclusively in things Catholic for us. Every human being has some disorder in themselves as a result of the original sin. So why doesn’t the CCC (and other official docs) make a point of ALWAYs bringing this out when dealing with those “other issues” the way they do with SSA ad nauseum?

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  5. Dante

    Messed up a bit on last post as I am at work and distracted. Last sentence should read “Why does…” not “Why doesn’t…”

    Reply
  6. Fr. B

    Dante –

    I sort of disagree with your assessment. After pulling up the CCC section on chastity and searching for the word, “Disorder” it quickly rendered that the CCC calls all lust and masturbation as Gravely disordered.

    I do, however, sort of agree that in practice a lot of Catholics, even fairly well educated ones, tend to single out homosexuality as disordered.

    Reply
  7. Lee

    Being authentic and bringing our authentic selves to ourselves first and then to others is what God calls us to do. At least I think that is right.

    I have never struggled with SSA – I have struggled mightily with other demons in my life – and I have permitted others to define who I am and what I am, all the while feeling as though I was in a plastic sack, not able to breath and not able to get out.

    I am closing in on my 60th birthday – and I am going to treat myself with the best birthday present ever – and that is continuing (recently started on this part of my life) to live my life, with the help of God’s grace, with dignity and grace.

    I applaud you Steve for refusing to permit others to define you, for you are uniquely and wonderfully made in His Image and Likeness and YOU are so worth not having to play basketball if you don’t want to – YOU are worth enjoying those who make you feel good about yourself and help you in your walk with God.

    So easy – and so hard this walk, huh?

    Reply
  8. Peter

    I’m currently working with a good Catholic therapist (not trying to “repair”, just dealing with some issues related to SSA and some other stuff, long story), and at some point I asked him about “reparative” therapy, whether he thought I might be a candidate for it. He put to rest a couple of misconceptions I had about it. First, he said it is not intended to eliminate same-sex attraction, as though there’s some hidden switch in yourself you can flip and suddenly you’re straight; rather, it’s intended to reduce or diminish the desires. Second, any decent therapist who’s practicing it will not guarantee you a “cure” or anything. In general, he said, about a third of the men who seek it experience diminished SSA to the point where they are basically heterosexual with occasional same-sex urges (I gather these are the ones whose SSA wasn’t deep-seated or was some sort of phase or something). The other two-thirds experience some to little reduction in attraction.

    I think MhariDubh is right to advise caution. I gather there are some groups who don’t use therapy as much as peer-pressure or getting you to pretend you can just will away your attractions.

    When I saw the title of this post, I thought Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast”. Talking clocks are hilarious.

    Reply
    1. Steve Gershom

      Peter (and MhariDubh), I agree that caution is a good idea. I don’t doubt that there are groups out there that will seriously mess with your head, although I’ve never encountered one.

      That’s my understanding of reparative therapy too — I mean that it isn’t meant to offer a “cure.” My SSA is so deeply ingrained that I long ago stopped imagining that I would somehow wake up without it one day. Stopped trying to “pray it away” too — generally speaking, the Lord doesn’t seem to radically change people’s personalities overnight. Since that’s not how people work.

      Reply
  9. SUZANNE

    Sometimes, you get so wrapped up in fixing what’s wrong with you, that you make things worse, not better.

    Sometimes, the best thing to do is forget about it. Not completely. Just focus on something else. Because if you obsess about it, you make it bigger than it is. The anxiety of it all keeps you entrapped in thinking about it, and in thinking about it, you put the temptation there in your mind more than if you’d just gone on with your life in the first place.

    There are lots of quack therapies out there for other issues. It doesn’t mean therapy per se is wrong, or that the goal is wrong. It just means that you have to evaluate what you’re getting into.

    Reply
  10. Dante

    Thanks, Fr. B. I was thinking also (but didn’t express it well) how all sin is a disorder. Thus aspects besides the sexual would rightly lay claim tot his designation but it never seems to be applied as such in magisterial docs (but is never ommited in those on homosexuality).

    Reply
  11. J.AO

    Steve! You’re so great. Although you had commented about the “reparative drive” in a proper context before (on a comment somewhere in the blog), here you seem to have just stumbled upon the word for the first time and give a type of introduction that in trying to be a disclaimer perpetuates more confusion and lack of balance than it attempts to correct.

    I thank Peter and his therapist for getting an important part of it right. But there are at least 3 more vital clarifications needed:

    1) Reparative Therapy doesn’t work with a client that is motivated with ideas like “I must be heterosexual” or “my family won’t accept me so I want to change”. It doesn’t work with an unmotivated client. It does work very well with those that want their SSA to diminish and possibly enhance their heterosexual potential.

    2) The above links with another important aspect: it’s much like Suzanne said but in a different way: sometimes NOT worrying and focusing too much or too wrongly on things does TAKE more time in therapy. This is because things need to be understood in a proper way before they.

    3) There’s NO Reparative Therapy other than Dr. Joseph Nicolosi’s Reparative Therapy. The umbrella term for “therapies-that-attempt-to-change-sexual-orientation” isn’t that; it’s SOCE: Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (that includes using mainstream approaches like CBT, interpersonal therapy, family therapy or EMDR). So, if you want to experience change but don’t find yourself in Reparative Therapy’s model, that’s really no surprise and Dr. Nicolosi accepts that just fine: do look into other forms of therapy that assist in pursuing the goals you want and that click with you.

    So what’s “reparative” about? What does Dr. Nicolosi say about it? He has a site, you can look it up (and a few books). It’s actually not used lightly and is a “technical”, theoretical concept inspired from psychoanalytic therapy.

    The way I understand it at the moment (I’m no expert at all), I would put it like this:

    «The word “reparative” doesn’t mean it looks into “repairing” a person as if they were a broken car, but rather taking the perspective that the homosexual condition is a deficit in same-sex identity that the person will inevitably seek to repair. The therapy offers an alternative to this, in the form of a non-sexualized expression of a valid emotional need for connection with one’s own sex and people of the same sex (often a result of accute sensitivity to absence, disappointments or failures in previous relationships with parents or peers – those unmet needs become a source of personal insecurity and shame which are grieved and let go of, usually resulting in diminished same-sex attractions).»

    Some people immediately relate to this, especially when it’s put in more colloquial terms and a few questions are asked, others don’t. Still others will misunderstand, thinking that naive psychology is enough to get it all, or base every interpretation they make of it on their own prejudices. And others will eventually be positively surprised. Such is life!

    God bless and keep it up bro.

    Reply
    1. Steve Gershom

      Thanks for the corrective, J.AO — I need to get my terminology straight.

      I do appreciate that “reparative” isn’t meant as any kind of slur, but I do think it’s an unfortunate choice of words.

      Reply
  12. J.AO

    *2) The former point links with another important aspect: it’s much like Suzanne said but in a different way – sometimes NOT worrying and focusing too much or too wrongly on things does TAKE more time in therapy. This is because things need to be understood in a proper way before they stop being a problem. In fact, when a person’s experience stops being looked at as a problem but properly understood through its causes and means of functioning and some control over its development, it just disappears. Much of this is true with SSA and the related things that you mention in the post as being part of your life. Reparative Therapy takes it deeper and to the core of SSA.

    Reply
  13. J.AO

    Also, I like People Can Change’s ideas but just like Fr. B. I think it’s way too little time. From my knowledge, plenty of Evangelical ministries pretty noticeably lack a thorough intraindividual process other than prayer. It still works for plenty of people, but many will need more too.

    Oh you should listen to this interview by Patrick Coffin of Catholic Answers with Dr. Nicolosi only last year. Really great, not to be missed! You also get a personal feel for the man and I can’t think anyone will say it’s not a positive one. He has well over 2 decades of experience and 7 other therapists working with him in California, dealing with over a hundred weekly clients.
    http://www.catholic.com/radio/event.php?calendar=1&category=0&event=6330&date=2010-08-02

    By the way, there’s now a set of scientific studies on the outcomes of several types of therapy: Karten & Wade (2010); Jones & Yarhouse (2007); Spitzer (2003). Don’t mind what LGBTQ lobbyists and sympathizers unfairly criticize them for, the effectiveness is very realistic and proven. With this I don’t mean to say there aren’t bad therapists or people doing all sorts of things that are harmful out there (which aren’t Reparative Therapy anyway). I deeply regret the lack of information on this issue and the ones who are most in need of help suffer for being met with what they can find, not what’s best for them.

    Again, God bless!

    Reply
    1. Steve Gershom

      Oh, I definitely agree about the time thing. I’m not sure what their site implies, but nobody I’ve encountered from the organization has ever given the impression that 48 hours is enough to make a lasting difference. On the weekend I learned some tools that I’m still using, but it was very clear to me that the weekend wasn’t any kind of magic pill, and wasn’t meant as one.

      Reply
  14. Chris

    Hey, I really appreciate your light tone and lack of self-hatred on this blog. You know who you are: Catholic, and Gay, and called to chastity by Jesus Christ. This is very refreshing, and my prayers are with you. Keep me in yours.

    Reply
  15. Louise

    I just wanted to let you know how much I love your blog. Ever since I read your guest post at Little Catholic Bubble, I’ve waited eagerly for updates and I get really excited whenever I see a new post in Google Reader! God bless you! By the way, LOVE the Strong Bad reference!

    Reply
  16. J.AO

    Felicia,

    None of the descriptions in both links you posted are accurate about Reparative Therapy. If you want to really “know from the inside”, don’t go to someone who got their “inside” from a single conference, a selection of reports and a mediatic presentation, or from someone who went as “inside” as reading the same ZENIT news anyone else can read.

    Eve goes a bit into it but applies it to herself (when 99% of Nicolosi’s clients are men and he never claimed to be an expert on female sexuality, there’s so much variety there that not even 2 conferences would manage to include all that fits Eve, for example). When she looked for what men who went through it would say, the answer is clear, from people with actual experience: “you just told my story”, hundreds of times. Lance Carroll is a sad case, immersed in LGBTQ activitism these days, used pretty often as a poster-boy and go-to reference whenever the subject his raised, but none of what is described there from his experiences and the retreat are Reparative Therapy! That is some cruel stuff indeed. People thinking that such has ANYTHING to do with Reparative Therapy are sadly too unconcerned or disgusted about the idea to really learn something real about it.

    What John Heard discusses is much ado about nothing, or rather, much ado about himself and his views and a lot of speculation about what others thing to be incompatible or not. NARTH doesn’t conceptualize “sin”. It works with unwanted and distressful same-sex attractions reported by clients, preserving their right to self-determine the goals they have for therapy, and the uncensored freedom to keep developing and publishing research (all of these things are in jeopardy mostly due to public pressure). He has archived that site last year being quite critical of the way he put things in the past. I also saw him use crude language like “c*ck” casually in another post, in fact one otherwise full of Catechism quotes…

    Please do the pretty obvious thing of reading what they say and publish, starting with this: http://narth.com/2011/02/anti-gay/

    I’m sorry for being so negative, but this really needs to be cleared up already.

    Reply
  17. Mark from PA

    Just reading this for the first time. Checked some of the links. Horrified by what happened to Lance Carroll. It is sad that he had a good relationship with his father but when his parents found out that he was gay his mother started abusing him and eventually others had to find a safe place for him to live. I wonder if he ever got back to a relationship with his dad. Reading stuff like this makes me realize what some people go through. The most dangerous thing is that some young people have taken their lives due to reparative therapy and mistreatment. People just need to realize that God made some people different and respect other people for who they are.

    Reply
  18. J.AO

    Mark, noone has ever taken their lives due to Reparative Therapy, that’s just ignorance. RT isn’t the CAUSE for that.

    Everyone is different but God didn’t make anyone gay, that’s a theological assumption you’re not allowed to make, at least not as a Catholic. As Steve says, the first thing you should reject is the idea that you just simply “are” gay.

    Reply

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