This year has seen Exodus International’s president Alan Chambers drop support for the brand of change therapy called reparative therapy. In response, the therapy’s chief proponent, Dr. Joeseph Nicolosi, has accused Chambers of misrepresenting the practice. Some of what we present here has appeared elsewhere recently, but we are now able to provide a more complete picture using some new information recently obtained.
On July 3, Alan Chambers posted the following to Facebook:
As for Reparative Therapy, I do not support it. I don’t think it’s “fine.” They use pornography as a means of making people “100% straight.” We stopped allowing Joe Nicolosi to teach because he encouraged attendees to pick up heterosexual porn to encourage heterosexuality. Also, he and others have said that they can “cure” people 100% of SSA. That’s [not] within a human’s ability to state concretely.
Nicolosi took issue and responded via a publicly published email to Chambers on July 11. A full copy (PDF) has been obtained by XGW but it read in part:
Alan, what you are saying is untrue. I have never said I could cure someone completely from homosexuality. All my books make it quite clear that homosexual attractions will persist to some degree throughout a person’s lifetime.
Furthermore, I do not use heterosexual pornography with my clients. I do ask them (if they wish to do this; some clients do not, and I never expect my clients to do anything they do not wish to do) to bring up a compelling image from gay porn that they wish to reduce the power of, and we work on diminishing its power (a technique with which we have had considerable success).
However, I do not use straight porn; I use pictures of women they find attractive in mainstream magazines and we work on developing a physical attraction to them, through their imagination, while looking at these non-pornographic pictures.
I would like you to set the record straight on this. You have been publicly denigrating reparative therapy and misleading people about its nature.
Chambers has since posted evidence to support his comments to a NARTH listserve and XGW has obtained copies. At the 2010 Exodus Freedom Conference, Nicolosi was supposed to give two presentations. One of those was scratched by Exodus after they saw the description (below). Notice Nicolosi’s comments to Alan preceding that description.
EXODUS PRESENTATIONS, 2010
Also note that the presentation #2 will certainly arouse Evangelical anxiety followed by a flurry of panicky e-mails. So, please be assured that I will begin my presentation with a Christian moral and theological justification of the technique.
If you have any questions, please let me know,
Gay Pornography as a Therapeutic Tool
Reparative Therapists have recently developed a therapeutic technique utilizing gay pornographic images to expose deeper emotional needs beneath mere sexual arousal. While many clients have been told that their homosexuality is a defense (sic) against emotional needs, this technique offers “experiential knowing” resulting from personal experience. The result is a diminishment (sic) of pornographic appeal and movement toward resolving deeper conflicts.
For men and leaders.
Apparently, not only did Nicolosi plan to speak about using gay pornography in his therapy, he was well aware that the Christian attendees would need to be finessed beforehand to keep them from protesting.
Nicolosi was allowed to do his other presentation that year, but apparently couldn’t resist including some of the material on gay porn (along with jokes about heterosexual porn) that Exodus had decided not to allow him to use. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is suggested as the therapeutic tool, a controversial procedure which is supported mainly for use with severe trauma, such as PTSD. It is poorly understood and seems to require an element of faith by adherents (the Wikipedia page for EMDR is a mess). Here is the audio from that section of the presentation.
Nicolosi speaking at Exodus Freedom Conference 2010
More evidence to support Chamber’s allegations comes after his appearance on the Dr. Drew show in April of 2011. During the show, Chambers again made some statements with which Nicolosi took issue. The day after the episode aired, he wrote Chambers the following email:
I have not seen yet your appearance on the T.V. show and of course, I always know how unfair and stressful these events are. But again, it is such a disservice to represent the alternative to gay but stating you are still struggling. It is not a very inspiring option to the many young people who may be hearing your message.
The point Alan is that you can get to a place where there is no more homosexuality. Really.
You can actually get to a place where you can willfully (sic) think of an SSA image and have no bodily sensation.
Why stop half way? Why not do further work and finish the task and have it completely behind you. consider this invitation, not only for your sake but also as a testimony of complete healing to truly motivate others.
We have the therapeutic tools to get you over what ever SSA is remaining.
You know I am your friend. I am willing to help you. I’ll work with you personally if you like.
Please consider this invitation I offer you as a brother (O.K., a Catholic brother) in Christ.
Joseph Nicolosi, Ph.D.[emphasis in the original]
Nicolosi objects to an apparent instance of candor by Chambers when he admits that he still “struggles” with attractions to men. Not only does Nicolosi think this is essentially bad PR for their “alternative to gay” but he states emphatically that Chambers can entirely eliminate his attractions to men — a 100% cure, as it were. He even offers to assist Chambers in doing so.
Despite Nicolosi’s protests to the contrary, it would appear — from his own words — that he and others do use gay pornography as a therapeutic tool in reparative therapy. Chambers says that others who practice reparative therapy (he names David Pickup as one) have told him that heterosexual pornography is also used. We fail to see the distinction in any case — the type of pornography seems irrelevant for the purposes of this discussion.
There also seems to be no doubt — again from his own words — that Nicolosi does make the claim that same-sex attractions can be completely eliminated, that one can be completely “cured” of homosexuality. In addition, he is keenly aware of the need to make this clear to those who may seek his help to avoid discouraging them. Remembering that Nicolosi makes his living from these people, one cannot help but note the conflict of interest.
As an aside, elements of this email remind us of comments made by at least one participant in the Jones and Yarhouse study. Specifically, the appeal to consider how incomplete results would discourage others. One can’t help but wonder how often this type of appeal has been used to convince “strugglers” to continue in something that is not working, or to report more favorable results after the fact.