Monday, September 24, 2018

Change Is Possible

I was listening to/semi-watching the Michael Knowles show last Friday, when he announced a guest that caught my attention: Dr. Nicolosi. I knew that name from research on same-sex attraction. When I saw Dr. Nicolosi, I was surprised how young he looked, since I’ve been citing studies for close to twenty years. It turns out the interview was with Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, Jr., the son of the Dr. Joseph Nicolosi I’ve cited.[i] But they are in the same field—researching and helping people with same-sex attraction.

Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, Jr. (left) and Michael Knowles
screen shot from the Michael Knowles Show, September 21, 2018
See video below.

The interview was about reintegrative therapy. That’s a new word to me. It isn’t reparative therapy, or conversion therapy. But the eventual outcomes sometimes have an effect of change in sexual orientation, when that is the desire of the client.

Michael Knowles introduced the segment by pointing out that the left, including Hollywood, portrays gay conversion therapy in very negative ways. There’s a new movie called Boy Erased, with Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman, that shows it as horrifyingly abusive. And Vice-President Mike Pence, who is a religious person who favors traditional marriage, as I do, is accused of promoting electroshock therapy, which he has not. And that negative side would include reintegrative therapy as if it were those abusive horrors. So Knowles gives Dr. Nicolosi the opportunity to explain and clarify what it really is:

We need to differentiate between two things. One term is conversion therapy. Now, conversion therapy is a term that’s broad. It’s ill-defined. There’s no ethics code, no governing body. And it’s practiced by unlicensed individuals. This is the stuff that we’re seeing from Hollywood. Right.
In the work that we do, in reintegrative therapy, the client is in the driver’s seat. The licensed psychotherapist uses evidence-based mainstream treatment approaches, the same treatment approaches used in other clinics throughout the world to treat trauma and sexual addiction. And as those underlying dynamics are resolved, the sexuality changes as a byproduct. Our clients notice significant and lasting decreases in their same-sex attractions and increases in their heterosexual attractions.
Dr. Nicolosi goes on to talk about neuroplasticity of the brain, something that I have long thought should be important in dealing with unwanted LGBT issues:

There’s no so-called “gay gene.” But that’s science fiction. Here’s the science. We know that the brain is capable of something that we call neuroplasticity. It’s like, there’s a new study released basically every week demonstrating that the brain has this neuroplastic capability. Neuroplasticity is the idea that the brain can wire and re-wire itself based on our life experience. And with neuroplasticity in mind, why would everybody’s sexuality be set in stone? So, we see that there’s further and further evidence for this, and we also know that the regions of the brain that are responsible for sexual preference are the same regions of the brain that we know change over time.
The brain is changeable, but it requires creating new neural pathways with enough frequency, intensity, and duration that they become strong enough to be the chosen pathways. The difficulty has been with identifying the exercises that would create the new pathways. But identifying where the pathways began going wrong seems like a good starting point.

Dr. Nicolosi has observed a pattern:

I can tell you this. The hundreds of men that I’ve worked with, in our clinic, they tell me very remarkably similar patterns in their childhood experiences that they believe relate to their same-sex attraction.
He later talks a little more about those similar childhood experiences:

You know, so many of my clients who have never met one another, they describe remarkably similar backgrounds in their childhoods—things that are not being addressed by Hollywood. My clients consistently report having distant, detached, critical fathers; higher anxiety, sometimes intrusive mothers; and they themselves who were temperamentally sensitive. If you put these factors together, it seems to increase the probability that the boy will have difficulty making that gender identity shift away from the mother and toward the father that’s typical in young childhood. Oftentimes my clients had a bullying older brother. If you put these factors together, it makes it harder.
These individuals, my clients, when they were growing up, girls were their closest friends. They knew girls like the back of their hands. But boys, and roughhousing—my clients felt scared. They felt intimidated by these kinds of behaviors. They didn’t know how to connect with other guys. And their childhoods were filled with getting female attention, affection, approval, but no male attention, affection, approval. Eventually, in puberty, those underlying desires became sexual. This story is happening again, and again, and again.
I read a study offering this family dynamic causal suggestion almost twenty years ago. It seemed plausible, but it covered only a certain percentage—though pretty high—of those with same-sex attraction. What about the others? Another large percentage—and there was overlap—were boys who were sexually abused by older males[ii]. Some don’t claim this as abuse, because they saw themselves as willing, but if we were looking at adult males having sex with young females, we would call that statutory rape, at the very least. There are reasons young people are considered incapable of giving consent in such situations.

It appears that same-sex attraction, then, is a wiring problem. Sometimes the mis-wiring happens so early in life that the person doesn’t remember a time before thinking that way—hence the claim that they were born that way. Sometimes we can see that having an experience wires the brain in a certain way, deepening pathways that were only possibilities if the person remained celibate.

Any way you look at it, we’ve been right for a long time when we say it’s a mental issue, not a physiological fact, and it is changeable.

The term reintegrative refers to the idea that, when the young person is developing thought patterns, he (or she) separates out parts of the self, can’t see their own gender in a healthy way, and in a way dissociates from their wholeness. The therapy helps them reintegrate, or bring back together those hidden or buried parts of themselves, making it safe for them to be wholly who they are.

Some don’t want to change. Fine. This therapy—as most psychotherapy—is intended for clients who perceive a problem that they want to work on and change.

For those that want that change, there are good reasons. Dr. Nicolosi sees three categories:

One: Individuals that were sexually abused by someone of the same sex when they were young, resulting in conflict and confusion, and lingering effects of the abuse. And these are individuals who, as adults, say they want to resolve this. And we see that with standard trauma therapy, when we focus on treating the sexual abuse memories, these adults often describe their sexuality changing on its own.
The second is individuals, because of their closely held beliefs—maybe they’re Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists. These are all people who say, “I believe I was designed heterosexual.”
And the last is individuals who, they’re not religious—they’re not dealing with a deeply held belief. They’re not traumatized. But they’re here for pragmatic reasons. They say, “Look, I tried homosexuality. I came out ten years ago. I find homosexuality, homosexual relationships compelling, but at the end, not really fulfilling.” And they wish to explore heterosexuality. And I believe no one should interfere with that. That’s their right to pursue if they choose.
Ironically, the movement that says everyone ought to be able to choose the lifestyle they want to live is very hostile to anyone who chooses to leave.

Dr. Nicolosi was one of many who testified against a bill in California, AB 2943, designed to prohibit any and all treatments that could possibly lead to changes in sexual orientation. As it turned out AB 2943 was pulled by the assemblyman who sponsored it, on the very last day. Dr. Nicolosi said we might never know exactly why:

But it probably had a lot to do with a lot of individuals saying, “Look, I was sexually abused when I was young. Don’t take my right away to walk away from homosexuality. I don’t want to be kept in homosexuality against my will.” Or other individuals who say, “Well, wait a second, the client should be in the driver’s seat of their own psychotherapy, not the government.” And this is not the kind of legislation that would pass, I think, in court. I think it would get torn to shreds.
So, despite activism against options, there’s hope for change, for those who want to. In my religion that isn’t uncommon for young people with same-sex attraction. They sincerely pray for release from it. They don’t know where to turn. Not sure whether their parents or peers will understand their struggle—at a time when almost all the media says they can’t change, and shouldn’t.

Screen shot from the documentary Free to Love,
available at

There have always been ways. But I’m glad to see this particular approach—the same used for healing trauma or sexual addiction, which is a pretty good description of what same-sex attraction is, explaining why those in that lifestyle have manifold more sexual partners than healthy heterosexuals. And also it explains the co-morbidity, the existence of additional mental problems. Dealing with the underlying problems means healing, and then there’s an opportunity to choose.

I’m thinking this might be a better approach for gender dysphoria as well, because those underlying issues are still there after reassignment hormonal treatments and surgeries. In a sensible society, the obvious answer would always have been, “Let’s help you heal, and then we’ll see what you want to do,” rather than, “Let’s indulge your delusion and change the world and its reactions to you.”

If you’d like to know more about reintegrative therapy, I suggest skipping any and all Hollywood versions. There’s a documentary, available online, called Free to Love, that Dr. Nicolosi helped produce. You can find it at 

Here is the video of the Michael Knowles Show. The 15-minute interview with Dr. Nicolosi begins at about 17 minutes.

[i] Here are some of the Nicolosi references I have used:
·         Lack of long-term fidelity in same-sex males: Joseph Nicolosi, Reparative Therapy of Male Homosexuality, (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson Inc., 1991), p. 111.
·         Pro-homosexual writers claim fidelity is a heterosexual norm and should not be expected of homosexuals: Ibid., p. 140.
·         The level of promiscuity amongst the gay population is also very different from mainstream society.  The Kinsey Institute published a study showing that 28 percent of male homosexuals have had sexual encounters with one thousand or more partners with over half having more than 500 different sexual partners in a lifetime: Ibid. p. 124.
·         Successful homosexual partnerships have embraced infidelity: Ibid., p. 125.
·         Evidence concerning change from homosexual lifestyle is abundant. Study concludes that “20% to 30% of the participants [in voluntary conversion therapy] said they shifted from a homosexual orientation to an exclusively or almost exclusively heterosexual orientation,” belying any assertion that homosexual orientation is “immutable”: Joseph Nicolosi, A. Dean Byrd, Richard W. Potts, “Retrospective Self-Reports of Changes in Homosexual Orientation:  A Consumer Survey of Conversion Therapy Clients,” 86 Psychological Reports 1071, 1083 (June 2000). 
·         Change therapy: Joseph. Nicolosi, “Belief and Practices of Therapists Who Practice Sexual Reorientation Psychotherapy,” 86 Psychological Reports 689-702 (2000).

[ii] Bill Watkins and Arnon Bentovim, "The Sexual Abuse of Male Children and Adolescents: A Review of Current Research," Journal of Child Psychiatry 33 (1992); in Byrgen Finkelman, Sexual Abuse (New York: Garland Publishing, 1995), p. 316. Also, a Child Abuse and Neglect study found that 59 percent of male child sex offenders had been victims of contact sexual abuse as a child." Michele Elliott, "Child Sexual Abuse Prevention: What Offenders Tell Us," Child Abuse and Neglect 19 (1995): 582.

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