Reintegrative Therapy an Alternative to Conversion Therapy?
Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, Jr. explains why reintegrative theory works, and conversion therapy doesn't
If there’s one thing that’s completely un-p.c., it’s conversion therapy. It tries to change a gay person’s sexual orientation. Several states have banned the practice for minors. California wants to ban it for adults as well, even when they want it. Its critics mock it as claiming to “pray away the gay.”
All the big professional groups reject it. The American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics have all come out against it. So have the American Psychological Association, the National Association of School Psychologists, the American Psychoanalytic Association and the American Counseling Association. Even if a homosexual person wants to try to change, no mainline group wants him to try to help patients change this way.
But there’s an alternative.
Reintegrative Therapy™ does not seek to change a patient’s sexual preference. It does not view homosexuality as a disease or use aversion techniques (shame, pain or coercion) to try to force people to change. And it’s not for children.
The Patent & Trade Office recently provided a patent for reparative therapy (a former version of reintegrative therapy). Science and clinical psychology form the basis for it.
The therapy seeks to resolve the conflicts behind homosexual attraction, by dealing with childhood trauma. It begins with the idea that early trauma could lead to homosexuality. A domineering mother and a detached father might increase that effect for men.
The late Dr. Joseph Nicolosi pioneered this new kind of therapy. After his death last year, his son Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, Jr., took over the practice. The Stream interviewed him to find out more. The interview has been slightly edited.
How did you decide to follow in your father’s footsteps?
My father was a man of courage and caring. He was an unapologetic warrior for truth on one hand. On the other, a man of deep compassion and empathy for those who aren’t being listened to. I’m continually inspired by his willingness to speak the truth. He never, ever backed down. He had compassion for men who had these unwanted attractions.
Our culture told them that they were just gay. The only way to be happy was to embrace the gay label. But that didn’t work for them. These were often men who were, as children, sexually abused by someone of the same sex. They would later as adults report that their same-sex attraction wasn’t “who they really are.”
They believed the abuse affected their adult sexuality. Our pop culture ignored these people. It insisted that they must accept the gay label. This same pressure to identify as “gay” was put upon Muslims, Jews, Christians, and others with deeply held beliefs who believed they were designed to be heterosexual.
It was the same thing with those who had been gay-identified for awhile. After several years, they felt unfulfilled and decided to explore heterosexuality instead. But others told them their only choice was to be gay. To do anything else was just to deny who they are.
My father took notice of these people. He heard their perspective and refused to buy the pop-culture narrative. He knew sexuality can change, what we now call “sexual fluidity.” This was before neuroscience began affirming that notion.
Has anything changed since your father led the movement?
This topic was very polarized in the 90s. Back then, people framed it with the question, “Are people born gay, or is it a choice?” Thankfully, the public is slowly rejecting both those ideas. A middle-ground approach emerged. It says that sexuality is fluid for many people. They don’t choose their orientation.
On the other hand, no one has discovered a so-called “gay gene.” Sexuality is far more complex than something that can be boiled down to a mere gene. Advances in neuroscience show us that our life experiences continually impact the brain. This is called “neuroplasticity.” It’s led scientists to acknowledge that sexuality is not set in stone for everyone.
Do the state laws banning conversion therapy apply to reintegrative therapy?
So-called “conversion therapy” and reintegrative therapy are entirely separate. Conversion therapy is a vague, broad term. There’s no ethics code or governing body. Unlicensed individuals practice it. In reintegrative therapy, the client is in the driver’s seat. The licensed therapist uses a specific combination of mainstream, evidence-based treatment approaches.
Other clinics throughout the world use these same treatments. They treat trauma and sexual addictions. Not just gender or sexual-orientation issues. As those underlying dynamics resolve, the client’s sexuality often changes on its own. It is a byproduct of the resolution of the trauma. Clients often report lasting decreases in same-sex attractions. At the same time, they find increases in heterosexual ones.
How do you respond to the claim that reintegrative therapy is about blaming the family?
It’s important that clients have the freedom to tell their own story. That’s naming (not blaming) family dynamics that are present in the homes of so many of our clients. Many with same-sex attractions have spoken to our therapists describing remarkably similar experiences.
Perhaps it’s political correctness that pressures clients and therapists to be silent about the patterns they see. However, the evidence for a specific family pattern appears to be strong.
What people or groups are your primary opposition?
Earlier this week, a lawmaker stopped sponsoring a California bill that threatened clients’ rights to choose their own therapy goals. It would have banned therapy that had to do with the goal of leaving homosexuality or gender confusion.
The bill was AB-2943. I and others worked with the bill sponsor, California Assemblyman Evan Low, to try to find a resolution. After long talks with concerned clients who insisted they have the right to choose their own therapy goals, Low eventually dropped the bill. Politicians should not be in charge of this right.
Never before has the government banned adults’ therapy goals. The majority of the public knows the government has no business telling people their therapy goals are illegal. And they know the client should be in the driver’s seat of their own therapy. Not the politicians.
How do you respond to psychiatrist Jack Drescher, who says he’s talked to some of your dad’s patients and said the treatment did not lead to changes in their sexual orientation?
My father always agreed that some clients didn’t change. In fact, he readily admitted that about one-third of his clients did not see significant changes. However, they did almost always report success in achieving other, related goals. Notably, improving family and peer relationships.
Although there’s no “one size fits all” explanation for my clients’ unwanted desires and attractions, when it comes to Reintegrative Therapy™, my clients often describe specific traumas. They believe these life-changing events led to their unwanted same-sex attractions. When we use standard, evidence-based trauma methods to diminish the effects of those traumas, clients often describe changes in their sexuality as a byproduct.
Are Reintegrative Therapists located in every state?
The number of therapists trained in Reintegrative Therapy™ is growing. This year there are upcoming training events in California, Florida, Hungary and Spain.
Follow Rachel on Twitter at Rach_IC.