False hope: Reparative Therapy and the
National Association for Research and
of Homosexuality (NARTH)
Reparative therapy is less commonly referred to as conversion therapy
or reorientation therapy.
NARTH supporters neither wrote nor approved of this section.
It is part of the sexual orientation section of the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance web site.
In 1981, Dr. Joseph Nicolosi (1947-2017) started to treat clients with a bisexual or homosexual orientation who were keen to either become celibate, or to confine their sexual activity to persons of the other sex.
In 1992, Dr.Nicolosi joined with two psychiatrists to form the National Association for Research
& Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH). It was a small professional association of therapists who shared an interest in the the effectiveness of reparative therapy to partly or completely convert clients' sexual orientation from bisexual or homosexual to heterosexual. They promoted beliefs about the causes of homosexual orientation and techniques to change sexual orientation which are not shared by other professional associations. They attributed adult homosexual behavior to early sexual experiences and improper parenting. However, their teachings were widely accepted among religious and social conservatives, and by some in the LGBT community.
Unfortunately, the therapy was perceived by many as being effective at changing persons with a homosexual orientation to heterosexual. However, it was widely perceived among its clients as causing greater levels of shame, depression, and suicidal ideation. A formal, well designed, scientifically designed, valid, and meaningful study of this conversion technique was never conducted. However, perhaps because the hope behind reparative therapy matched the beliefs of many religious conservatives, reparative therapy was once quite popular.
David Khalaf, a former client of Dr. Nicolosi, wrote in Patheos:
"I remember him telling me in my first meeting that if I didn’t want to change that I shouldn’t. His therapy was only for those who were dissatisfied with their sexual orientation. He was also straightforward in admitting that most of his clients experienced only degrees of change. I respected his honesty. And although people have wasted many years and many dollars caught up in the tangle of his therapy, it was, in my experience, never abusive or intentionally demeaning. Reparative therapy led me off course for many years, and it deepened my shame rather than alleviating it, but he was not intentionally cruel. I can blame Nicolosi for misdirecting people, but not for mistreating them. ..."
"Reparative and conversion therapies have caused gay people to feel fundamentally broken and irrecoverably sinful. This kind of therapy has shattered not only people’s self-worth but their spiritual connection to God. Those whose lost faith might call themselves lucky, for others lost even the will to live. These people took their own lives. And so we must ask ourselves: What good is a therapy that purports to save some lives if it takes others?" 1
Dr. Nicolosi died unexpectedly of complications from the flu at age 70 in 2017.
A major organization, Exodus International, was founded in 1976 to promote reparative and similar therapies. Exodus' President Alan Chambers:
In 2012, stated in public and at the group's annual meeting that there was no cure for homosexuality and that reparative therapy offered false hopes to gays and could even be harmful. 2
In 2013, apologized for the harm the organization had done
to the LGBT community, admitted that its success rate over the previous third of a century was essentially zero or actually zero, and closed down the group.
The long-range efficacy and safety of reparative therapy had not been studied and reported in a peer-reviewed journal. NARTH considered homosexual orientation to be a mental disorder, and strongly believed that reparative therapy are be both effective and safe. Many other professional mental health associations, which are much larger than NARTH, have expressed concern about the safety and effectiveness of reparative therapy. 4 They regard homosexual orientation to be one of the three normal and natural orientations that are unchosen, fixed, and unchangeable.
Wayne Besen, a gay activist and longtime foe of Nicolosi and the ex-gay industry, He wonders:
"What motivated him?. Was it opportunism? Catholicism? A personal issue? Nobody could really figure him out."
Whatever Nicolosi’s motivations, Besen calls him the most 'important and destructive' figure in the reparative-therapy community, because Nicolosi — who had a Ph.D. in psychology and was a co-founder of the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) — bolstered the movement with the veneer of scientific respectability. “He was essentially there to say: ‘You may not believe that Jesus will cure you, so here’s some science for you'."
Besen says. "It was fake science, but he used misinformation well."
Status of Reparative Therapy in 2018:
Reparative Therapy has fallen in popularity. The major organizations promoting it, including Exodus Internatonal, Jonah, Love Won Out, and NARTH itself have all closed. Several former ex-gay leaders in the movement have left it and have accepted their continuing personal gay identity. However, some individual therapists around the world still practice reparative therapy.
During 2018-MAR, by a vote of 435 to 109, the European Parliament passed a resolution condemning conversion therapy and urging individual member states to ban the practice.
Some states in the U.S. are banning reparative therapy on children and/or adults.
An overwheming number of mental health orgainizations in the U.S. and around the world have condemned reparative therapy. 4
Researchers have long observed Indicators that homosexual orientation is set up before birth and is not the result of a choice later in life. Considerable research concentrated on finding a "gay gene" that causes homosexual orientation; it was not particularly successful. During the 2010's it was determined that one's sexual orentation is determined by epigentics -- a layer over one's DNA. An test of an individual's saliva was developed that detects elements of the person's epigenetic layer. The test is 83% reliable in identifying males with a homosexual orientation.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
David Khalaf, "Why I’ll Mourn Joe Nicolosi, Reparative Therapy Icon," Patheos, 2017-MAR-10, at: http://www.patheos.com/
Erik Eckholm, "Rift Forms in Movement as Belief in Gay ‘Cure’ Is Renounced," The New York Times, 2012-JUL-06, at: https://www.nytimes.com
Benoit Denizet-Lewis, "Joseph Nicolosi: His life traced the rise and fall of the ex-gay movement," New York Times, 2017-DEC-28, at: https://www.nytimes.com/
Nick Duffy, "All the medical organisations who think gay cure therapy is bulls**t ," Pink News, 2018-JAN-03, at: https://www.pinknews.co.uk/
Topics covered in this section:
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Copyright © 1997 to 2010 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2010-JUN-26
Author: B.A. Robinson