The anti-LGBTQ+ movement continues to rebrand ineffective and harmful “therapies,” now supposedly as scientific and evidence-based
There is much discussion and argument over the definitions and different approaches to conversion therapy, reparative therapy, and reintegrative therapy, collectively SOGIECE (sexual orientation and gender identity and expression change efforts), but the one thing they all have in common is a desired outcome of a reduction and/or elimination of same-sex attraction and homosexual acts. In other words, they all see being LGBTQ+ as an unwanted and unnatural condition that needs to be addressed.
What is important to understand about these terms is the calculated and strategic rebranding efforts employed by the anti-LGBTQ+ movement to distance itself from the general term “conversion therapy.” The term’s meaning is well-accepted to be a practice which attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity to heterosexual or cisgender. There is an additional negative connotation because of the sometimes brutal and physical tactics that have been used to achieve this change by some practitioners, but not all. Additionally, conversion therapy has been associated with involuntary participation from the client. In describing conversion therapy as an “egregious violation of rights” and calling for a global ban, UN Independent Expert Victor Madrigal-Borioz said, “Practices of conversion therapy are rooted in the belief that persons of diverse sexual orientation and gender identity are somehow inferior, either morally, spiritually, or physically because of their orientation or identity, and that they must modify that orientation or identity to remedy that inferiority.”
Inventing a new name for conversion therapy, for example Reparative Therapy, Reintegrative Therapy, or sexual attraction fluidity exploration in therapy (SAFE-T), doesn’t change the core of what it is. Declaring that a form of therapy is not conversion therapy because it’s not coercive or physically harmful does not negate the inherent definition, which is about trying to change one’s sexual orientation or identity. The methods for achieving that may vary from prayer, to psychological consultation, to physical abuse, but it is all based on the anti-LGBTQ+ idea that sexual orientation or gender identity can and should be changed. These therapies are ineffective and harmful, and even “talk” therapy can cause severe and permanent psychological damage. Several major professional organizations including the American Psychological Association, the National Association of Social Workers, and the American Academy of Pediatrics have made statements against reparative therapy because of concerns for the harm caused to patients. The American Psychiatric Association has said, “The potential risks of reparative therapy are great, including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient.” Adding, “Therefore, the American Psychiatric Association opposes any psychiatric treatment, such as reparative or conversion therapy, which is based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon the a priori assumption that the patient should change his/her sexual homosexual orientation.”
Instead of allowing conversion therapy to be continually rebranded, it should be banned – in all forms, everywhere.
The Rebranding of Conversion Therapy
“Reparative Therapy” was created and trademarked in the early 1980s by Joseph Nicolosi, Sr., frequently called the father of conversion therapy and a founding member of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), now Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity, which attempts to apply a “science” to the idea that being LGBTQ+ is optional and problematic, a theory that has been discredited by multiple professional and medical associations. In 2006, the American Psychological Association (APA) stated: “There is simply no sufficiently scientifically sound evidence that sexual orientation can be changed.” The APA added, “Our further concern is that the positions espoused by NARTH and [the anti-LGBTQ+] Focus on the Family create an environment in which prejudice and discrimination can flourish.”
On the home page of Nicolosi’s website, which is still active after his 2017 death, the quote “If gay doesn’t define you, you don’t have to be gay” is front and center. According to the website, Nicolosi believed that underlying traumas cause people to be LGBTQ+, and when those traumas are treated by Reparative Therapy, the treatment “will often result in reducing unwanted same-sex attractions.“ Nicolosi believed that our bodies were not made for homosexuality and that homosexuality is pervasive throughout the personality, preventing gay men from forming non-erotic relationships with men.
Reparative Therapy “views most same-sex attractions as reparations for childhood trauma. Such trauma may be explicit, such as sexual or emotional abuse, or implicit in the form of negative parental messages regarding one’s self and gender.” In an attempt to confer credibility upon his work, his website writings state that Reparative Therapy is not “conversion therapy” because it is in no way coercive and is based on science. The therapy is intended for those who wish for their same-sex attractions to go away, not those who accept their sexuality.
However, when people are told by their families, their church, and their community that being LGBTQ+ is unacceptable, even revolting, that in itself is a form of coercion that can lead LGBTQ+ people to be uncomfortable with who they are and to seek out “solutions.” And by definition, it is coercion for children to experience this “therapy,” as they have no ability to consent when their parents sign them up.
Whatever Nicolosi’s beliefs about the source of homosexuality, it is clear that he believed that it is among the most undesirable of conditions and should be remedied. To wit, Nicolosi wrote, “Homosexuality… is rooted in a same-sex attachment problem that leaves the boy alienated from his masculine nature.” His books, including A Parent’s Guide To Preventing Homosexuality – New, Revised 2017 Edition, Including a New Chapter on the Health Consequences of Homosexuality (which was removed from the Amazon bookstore in 2019) and his Reparative Therapy training DVD for mental health professionals are still available for purchase on his website. In 2010, Patrick Strudwick attended conversion therapy events incognito and wrote about his experience for The Guardian. During a conference in London for therapists and clergy “wanting to learn how to ‘cure’ their clients,” Strudwick was present for a session by Joseph Nicolosi, Sr., who was “treating” a young man in front of the audience. Strudwick said of the event, “I felt like I was watching a blood sport.”
The Rebranding of Reparative Therapy into the Next Generation
Around the same time that Joseph Nicolosi, Sr., died, his son, Joseph Nicolosi, Jr., founded the 501(c)3 nonprofit, Reintegrative Therapy Association (RTA), and launched his own trademarked “therapy,” Reintegrative Therapy (not to be confused with reintegration therapy). As with his father, Nicolosi, Jr., has taken great pains to say that Reintegrative Therapy is not conversion therapy, even providing a chart comparing the two “treatments.” And similar to his father’s therapy, he says that the primary differences from conversion therapy are that Reintegrative Therapy is not coercive and is bound by professional ethics and protocols determined by RTA. Like Reparative Therapy, he argues that changes in sexuality come as a byproduct of the trauma treatment and are not the primary goal.
Nicolosi, Jr. is adamant that Reintegrative Therapy not be compared to previous therapies, even going so far as to distance himself from his father’s trademarked Reparative Therapy. On his website, he provides an explainer on the differences, saying that Reintegrative Therapy is broader and can benefit straight women with trauma and behavioral addictions, like binge eating, as much as it can help men with same-sex attractions. Though he has distanced himself from his father’s work, oddly, when landing on Nicolosi Sr.’s webpage, a pop-up with facts about how sexuality can be changed appears, redirecting the visitor to the Reintegrative Therapy Association website.
A closer look at the Reintegrative Therapy Association, Reintegrative Therapy, and Nicolosi Jr.’s own words, shows continual rebranding, even over its short existence, intended to downplay RTA’s work to change sexual orientation and identity. The Reintegrative Therapy Association received its IRS nonprofit status in 2018 with a stated mission of “To provide community advancement in the fields of education, therapeutic practice and science of reintegrative therapy to assist those who are conflicted with their sexuality.” A January 2018 version of the Reintegrative Therapy Association website stated, “our mission is to educate the public about this important new form of therapy, and to assist individuals as they successfully navigate through the sexual-fluidity journey,” a clear claim that there is value in trying to change one’s orientation. (Note the co-opting of the term sexual fluidity to describe an effort to change orientation or identity, rather than a natural function of people’s evolving sexuality.) An August 2018 version of the website says, “Reintegrative Therapy™ is a specific combination of established, evidence-based treatment interventions. The Reintegrative Therapy Association is a 501(C)3 non-profit organization which promotes the highest standards of excellence in Reintegrative Therapy™. Our mission is to educate the public and train professional therapists about this therapeutic approach.” It also says that “Reintegrative Therapy helps the client to ‘reintegrate’ the split-off parts of himself that were created due to childhood trauma.” Elsewhere on the site, it says RTA’s mission is to educate the public and train professional therapists about this important form of therapy, which is a specific combination of established, evidence-based treatment interventions.
In 2021, the website now reads, “The Reintegrative Therapy Association is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that promotes standards of excellence and integrity in Reintegrative Therapy. The association’s mission is to educate the public and train professional therapists about this specialized combination of established, evidence-based treatment interventions.” Sexual fluidity is no longer mentioned in this context.
It seems that Nicolosi, Jr. has gradually changed the language on his website and papers in hope of steering how Reintegrative Therapy is perceived. Why the intense desire to disassociate his work from conversion therapy? It appears that Nicolosi, Jr. is worried that Reintegrative Therapy as a business venture will be eradicated, according to a lawsuit he recently filed.
As local, state, national, and international governing bodies take steps to outlaw conversion therapy, particularly for minors, many conversion therapists have launched complex campaigns to stop these efforts. It is evident that Nicolosi Jr. fears that his Reintegrative Therapy will be perceived as SOGIECE and included in the bans, effectively shutting down his practice and possibly those of therapists who are certified by RTA. Nicolosi testified in 2018 against California’s AB2943 which would classify SOGIECE efforts as fraudulent and later gave an interview, saying, “They’re actually outlawing treatment goals, the goal to decrease one’s unwanted same-sex attractions in the privacy of one’s own therapy.” The legislation and new laws make no distinction between the names of the therapies, instead focusing on the desired outcome of the therapy. This is how Nicolosi’s concerns are described in a lawsuit he filed in July 2021 against Canadian researchers. “In sum, the Disputed Article and Disputed Allegation falsely characterize Reintegrative Therapy® as SOGIECE, thereby creating a substantial peril that proposed legislation will ban Reintegrative Therapy® based on the false premise that Reintegrative Therapy® is a form of SOGIECE. Plaintiffs have expended substantial resources in developing the Reintegrative Therapy® trademark, building a Reintegrative Therapy practice, and in promoting it to other mental health practitioners for licensure. There is a cognizable risk that Plaintiffs’ Reintegrative Therapy® practice may be criminalized in the near future because Defendants’ false and defamatory Disputed Allegation characterizes Reintegrative Therapy® as ‘SOGIECE.’ This cognizable risk represents serious harm to Plaintiffs’ business and the Reintegrative Therapy® trademark.”
It’s clear that Reintegrative Therapy is in the SOGIECE lexicon already and viewed as a rebranding of reparative therapy and conversion therapy by experts. For example, in 2020, the Independent Forensics Expert Group (IFEG), which was established by the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCTL) in partnership with Copenhagens University’s Department of Forensic Medicine, issued a “Statement of the Independent Forensic Expert Group on Conversion Therapy.” The statement includes reintegrative therapy as a form of sexual orientation change efforts, reading in part, “Conversion therapy is a set of practices that aim to change or alter an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It is premised on a belief that an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity can be changed and that doing so is a desirable outcome for the individual, family, or community. Other terms used to describe this practice include sexual orientation change effort (SOCE), reparative therapy, reintegrative therapy, reorientation therapy, ex-gay therapy, and gay cure.”
Some of Nicolosi Jr.’s own colleagues in this space see reintegrative therapy as the next generation of reparative therapy. One of the licensed Reintegrative Therapists, Tim Long, who runs Kainos Christian Clinic in California, gave a much-anticipated training to representatives from 22 countries on Reintegrative Therapy at the International Federation for Therapeutic and Counselling Choice (IFTCC) conference in Budapest, Hungary in November 2019. The presentation was entitled “The Practical Work of Re-integrative (i.e. Reparative) Therapy for men struggling with SSA.”
Looking to the Reintegrative Therapy Association website, we again note the strenuous efforts to say that Reintegrative Therapy is not about changing orientation but about treating trauma. However, there is a chart depicting how the brain can be rewired to achieve a change in male sexuality under the heading of The Science. And the homepage features a quote saying, “Everyone has the freedom to choose their own path,” above a photo of a happy, handsome young man. Below that is an October 2021 press release declaring, “Landmark Study Shows Trauma Treatment Significantly Alters Sexual Attractions: Surprising results challenge our assumptions about how fluid sexual attractions are.” The study had 75 participants with same-sex attractions who wanted to explore their “sexual attraction fluidity” and were treated by Reintegrative Therapy certified therapists. The study was published in the Journal of Human Sexuality, the official publication of the Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity, (formerly NARTH, founded by Nicolosi Sr.) Conducted by colleagues of Nicolosi, Sr., the study attempts to take the rebranding of conversion therapy to the next level by creating a new acronym, SAFE-T, sexual attraction fluidity exploration in therapy. “Most therapists will not offer clients sexual attraction fluidity exploration because they’ve been told there is not enough research into its safety or efficacy. Now we know, thanks to this new research, that such an approach is both safe and effective,” Nicolosi, Jr. said of the study.
One of Nicolosi, Jr.’s most ardent claims is that only licensed and trained therapists are allowed to use his trademarked therapy. Two videos on the YouTube channel, Reintegrative Therapy, show a therapist putting Reintegrative Therapy into action. In the videos the men describe in detail their homosexual fantasies, are taken through their traumatic experiences, and then realize their homosexual desires are lessened.
The first video is captioned “During a live educational demonstration in Mexico City, Reintegrative Therapist® José Alberto Garza demonstrates with a volunteer member of the audience how, with the Reintegrative Protocol, the client’s most powerful sexual fantasy changes, as a byproduct of trauma work. At no time does the client try to change his sexuality. The therapist never tries to change it. It changes on its own, spontaneously, without effort. This video is for educational purposes.” In the video, a man describes the power he feels when touching another man’s penis, and after exploring the trauma of a dog bite as a child, (the video shows the whole process in nine minutes), he is no longer sexually interested in men.
The second video includes a voice over from Nicolosi, Jr. and graphics explaining the therapy process as the man works through his therapy session. It’s captioned, “Self-compassion changed my sexuality. Watch Reintegrative Therapy. John considers this session a powerful step in treating his childhood trauma. Published evidence reveals the Reintegrative Protocol™ often triggers spontaneous changes in sexual feelings as a byproduct of trauma processing and has been shown to be both safe and effective.” Additional commentary from Nicolosi, Jr. follows. The video was retitled to “This Changed My Sexuality” a few days after being posted.
These videos are appalling and cringe-inducing to witness. Anyone could easily question the description, the method, and the outcome. The videos stretch credulity to the point of being unrecognizable – as does the idea that Reintegrative Therapy is not used to change a person’s sexual orientation or identity.
Conversion therapy, under any name, is dangerous. As long as providers of conversion therapy continue to rebrand their conversion therapy efforts, LGBTQ+ people will continue to be harmed. GPAHE believes that all forms of conversion therapy should be banned as we work toward a world where LGBTQ+ people are accepted for everything they are.