Sexual identity therapy: Is neutrality a bad thing?

Last year, I wrote an article for my website called I Am Not a Reparative Therapist. In that article, I indicated that one of my problems with reparative therapy, as I understood it, was that the therapist promoted reparative drive theory to clients as the singular source of same-sex attractions.

It seems to me that if a therapist begins with this theory or any one-size-fits-all theory, confirmation bias will operate to find it in the histories of clients. It also seems to me that any theory of origins, whether it be developmental or pre-natal or a combination thereof, is bound to contain much speculation due to the inadequacy of current research and the biases inherent in the therapeutic uncovering process. However, such speculation and uncovering may be quite useful in setting a context for the pursuit of valued action and may indeed lead to powerful emotional catharsis and the formation of a new way of looking at one’s self. A new perspective can be powerful, even if it is incorrect on certain objective points. E.g., some people say they have been freed of emotional bondage by resolving issues of trauma in past lives (past life regression). I do not believe they are correct but I suspect they really do feel better. This is an extreme example, of course, but it serves to illustrate that one may be objectively incorrect about the meaning of historical events but still feel relief because one has a meaningful perspective to make sense of it all. A single pathway theory can make clients and therapists feel better because it enhances a sense of certainty but I remain skeptical that single pathway theories are correct.

Having expressed skepticism about the meaning of historical events, I also believe that clients and therapists are sometimes correct in their inferences and finding the truth may or may not have real impact in the present. However, being correct in our inferences some of the time does not mean we are correct all of the time, nor does the events that ring so true for one client mean that the next client with similar issues has the same history or makes the same meaning of a similar history.

My reactions to reparative therapy as a means of addressing conflicted people are based in part on the belief that therapists should be prepared to flex from their theoretical and cognitive mindsets to address individual clients – the facts on the ground, so to speak. Perhaps, however, this is my bias showing about how therapy should be conducted. Perhaps, on the other hand, it is defensible to offer a form of therapy (e.g., cognitive-behavioral, client-centered, or gestalt) and say to the client, “Here is how I think about problems and how I work with them. If my way of working does not seem right for you then you are free to move on to another therapist.” Taking the analogy further, client-centered therapists refrain from giving advice, or making interpretations and view problems as arising due to discrepancies between a person’s real self and their idealized self. A client who wanted an active, directive therapist might be frustrated by a non-directive therapist. However, a non-directive therapist might be so wed to his viewpoint that he would need to refer clients who wanted a differing theoretical and technical perspective.

Germane to this discussion of therapy approaches, Dr. Nicolosi recently published an article on the NARTH website titled “Why I Am Not a Neutral Therapist.” This article lays out his rationale for advancing a specific theory of homosexuality and resultant therapy for those who do not feel congruent with their beliefs.

The developmental model we suggest must deeply resonate with the men we work with, or they will (rightfully) leave our office and pursue a different therapeutic approach. We explain that our position differs from the American Psychological Association, which sees homosexuality and heterosexuality as equivalent, and along the way, we encourage them to clarify and re-clarify the direction of their identity commitment. Gay-affirmative therapy should, of course, be available for any such client.

A few gay-identified clients do decide to stay with us. Out of respect for diversity and autonomy, I affirm them in their right to define themselves as they wish, and I accept them in their gay self-label.

This article addresses some of the concerns I cited in my article about reparative therapy. On one hand, it does appear that Dr. Nicolosi offers a singular explanation for homosexual attractions that clients encounter early in reparative therapy. On the other hand, Dr. Nicolosi tells clients the theory must ring true for them to proceed. And he apparently affirms some small group of gay clients. This is probably surprising news for many observers.

I continue to believe the reparative developmental model is probably not operative for all people who are same-sex attracted. And my bias is to hold all such theories loosely and indeed to think that there are many factors, both pre-natal and environmental, that lead to different outcomes for different people. I do wonder what people do if they do not believe reparative drive theory fits them. Does the insistence on the theory drive some people toward a more deterministic “born gay” view since they do not agree with the singular developmental theory of origins? Inasmuch as evangelical faith is often bound to an environmental explanation, can such determinism create more conflict with faith? These are of course open questions but I have written about this before.

From the article about therapist neutrality, it appears that Dr. Nicolosi envisions an environment where gay affirming therapists can assert their beliefs to clients and reparative therapists can likewise assert their beliefs and then let clients choose which approach they like. In contrast, the sexual identity therapy framework calls for therapists to refrain from offering preconceived ideas about causation and change but to focus instead on the realization of objectives which align with the individual values and beliefs of clients. In practice, I suspect there are times when therapists using any of three mindsets would look very similar.

I am hopeful that our framework provides therapists of all ideologies with a map to help clients determine their path. I believe our framework can be valuable in helping clients clarify which broad way may be most suitable for their individual situation.