Menu Close

Is Reparative Therapy Morally Wrong?4 min read

Listen to this article

I just found this NARTH review of a well-written, balanced (if not liberal) article from Social Work Today entitled Reparative Therapy: What’s Broken?  While the article concludes that reparative therapy is "unethical" for social workers, it does a good job of quoting Narth’s Joseph Nicolisi, a leader in reparative therapy of homosexuals.  Here’s some snippets:

At NARTH, says Joseph Nicolosi, “we don’t see homosexuality so much as a disorder but as a maladaption for certain individuals. It’s not working for them. It further stands in the way of the fulfillment of certain goals, such as marrying and having a family. The members of NARTH are not unanimous, however, about whether homosexuality is a disorder if it causes no conflict for the homosexual individual."

It is interesting that Nicolisi has backed off even of the term "disorder" in favor of "maladaptation for certain individuals."  I like that he is not trying to make global statements about gays (that shows intellectual humility on the subject, and perhaps a desire to avoid unnecessary conflict). 

Of course, there is also criticism of the approach:

There’s an extraordinarily high rate of failure of these therapies, explains Stevens, and, she says, there’s a significant risk of suicidal behavior or suicide among individuals who’ve gone through such attempts at conversion. Because they often are blame-oriented, she adds, "blaming the client for their ‘choice’ or the parents for behavior resulting in homosexuality, they can be very damaging not only to clients but their families as well, as any kind of therapy that’s blaming and moralistic can be."

Claims of high failure rates and suicides are a serious allegation, and should be taken seriously by reparative therapy researchers.  And while I agree that "blaming the client" for their orientation is not proper, blaming them for their ongoing response to the initial injury is proper.  As with most issues needing healing, we often have developed a coping mechanism due to early childhood injury.  We can’t really blame ourselves for initially forming such a response, but as an adult, we must address our current maladaptive behaviors and do the inner work to develop healthier patterns.  This is the model that reparative therapy uses, not just the "guilt and blame" method that detractors like to describe it with. 

NARTH has gained support from the former president of the American Psychological Association, Robert Perloff, PhD, who was the keynote speaker at the annual NARTH Conference last November. Perloff’s lecture, titled "Free to Choose," began by emphasizing the importance of client self-determination, a cornerstone value of all mental health professions. Said Perloff, "I am here as the champion of one’s right to choose;  It is my fervent belief that freedom of choice should govern one’s sexual orientation. If homosexuals choose to transform their sexuality into heterosexuality, that resolve and decision is theirs and theirs alone, and should not be tampered with by any special interest group, including the gay community…"


"The political agenda has eclipsed the fundamental right of individuals to seek treatment that they want," says Joseph Nicolosi. "This kind of therapy should be available for individuals who want to explore their heterosexual potential and who want to diminish something that’s dissatisfying to them. They’ve been told by other therapists that the solution to their problem is to work through their homophobia and to learn to accept and enjoy their homosexuality, but that is not a sufficient answer for certain individuals, either because of their value system, world view, philosophy, religion, or personal desires. Those individuals should be given a chance to explore this alternative therapy," he concludes.

It is also interesting that this is being couched as a fairness and freedom of choice issue.  The gay community needs to exercise some tolerance and understanding, not to mention humility in allowing people to research this type of therapy, and gain access to it as clients.  I think NARTH’s approach is both honest and humble.