Joseph Nicolosi:  A personal tribute to a great man

Mar 19, 2017 by

By Lisa Nolland, Anglican Mainstream.

Many tributes have been made to Joseph Nicolosi since his untimely death, and much has been said of his extraordinary career, brilliance, courage, compassion, humour, Italian heritage, and non PC views, among other qualities. Those who met him On Side, as it were, mostly liked or loved him.  Here, I will focus on a couple aspects of this remarkable man which will follow me to my grave.

Extraordinary experience in Vienna

I still recall the impression of hearing Joe for the first time in Vienna many years ago.  I was surprised, overwhelmed, amazed by how he managed to reframe the debate in his treatment of  homosexuality.  Shortly thereafter, Anglican Mainstream hosted what I believe was his first conference in London in June 2007. We called it  ‘The Time for Truth:  Is Gay Real? The Possibility of Change’, and the answer to whether ‘gay’ was real was actually a ‘no’. His approach was so intriguing we brought him back years later. My final interaction with Joe was on a sunny afternoon in Budapest last September when he told me we would have to catch up soon. That chat will have to wait for now.

Eager to improve

Over the years I tracked the evolution of Joe’s thought and practice; even in Budapest he was sharing positive, new approaches. I never ceased being impressed by how open he was to learn more effective ways of helping his clients with unwanted same-sex attraction [SSA]. This was not about him but his clients. They were always right, as he would often say.  Counsellors who work in this area tell me how much their clients appreciate Joe’s work; they insist he ‘gets’ them and their ‘stuff’.

Perhaps most importantly for the rest of us, Joe’s insights (the power of the affective domain; identifying the ’grey zone’; the impact of trauma on the right brain and its lack of integration with the left, etc.) are applicable to people with both same sex and heterosexual attractions.  I have personally benefited from them.

Attempts to fill voids

As Simone Weil noted, ’All sins are attempts to fill voids’.  Joe understood better than most how at least some temptation arises from unmet but legitimate psychological need.  That is not to say he endorsed the sin, but he tried to meet the need which was being hijacked and in the process, corrupted, by the temptation.

I have never known anyone better able to maintain a profoundly Christian sex ethic while simultaneously walking with men (in the main) out of degeneracy and corruption.  Joe did not waste time being appalled by what some of his clients had gotten up to, but went instead to the heart of the matter, the drivers behind the temptation, and by doing so, exposed them to the light of truth and healing.

Reparative Therapy

Because Joe’s ‘Reparative Therapy’ notion has elicited so much controversy, a word here to clarify terms. In conjunction with the discussion of unmet needs, above, Joe believed that homosexuality itself was a futile but understandable ‘repair mechanism’.  By means of it, gay guys were trying to heal other and hidden trauma.

For Joe, ‘ [H]omosexual behavior may be an unconscious attempt to “self-repair” feelings of masculine inferiority and . . . such feelings represent an attempt to meet normal, healthy, masculine emotional needs.’ (1)

So, Joe would never try to ‘repair’ gay men!  Often their homosexuality would endeavour unsuccessfully to do that. Above all, as in all therapy, RT was not imposed on anyone, but a response to clients’ desire to move away from unwanted thoughts and feelings. He would be explaining this till the bitter end. And many still refused to hear.


Partly as a result of Joe’s work, many have experienced the freedom and healing which comes from resolving underlying issues and are saying so in public!  One of our heart cries to God is to expand the ex-gay movement and enable Joe’s amazing work, including various hitherto undeveloped aspects, to grow and flourish in ways it did not while Joe was still with us in the flesh, to become a global good news story for all who want to move away from homosexuality.

Mike Davidson of CORE Issues Trust is at the cutting edge, as are such as David Pickup, Christopher Doyle, and of course Joe’s own professional association, the successor to NARTH, the Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity.

Most orthodox Christians are familiar with the teaching about the need to refrain from sexual activity outside heterosexual marriage. They know that some same sex attracted people live faithful lives of celibacy, aided by the Holy Spirit and the support of the Christian community; some people’s desires change spontaneously, and/or with prayer. But many people are not aware of how change can occur with intentional and careful therapy, and how this option is being suppressed for ideological, not scientific reasons. Given that the Anglican Communion (as well as virtually every other Christian denomination)  is being torn apart by this issue, Joe’s psychologically acute, biblically-congruent approach to unwanted SSA is desperately needed.


But how we will miss Joe, and all he contributed to The Cause, and that in so many ways!  I think it is vital that we remember that he is not missing us, however.  An event which my father, a doctor and devout Christian (but no mystic), told me comes to mind here and is relevant, I believe.  It was of an experience he had while praying for the Underground Church one rainy Pacific Northwest night. It haunts me still.

It was after a long day and my dad’s back was aching.  So, he was in his office, praying, prostrate, when a Presence entered the room. He could not believe it, but there it was. He did not dare look up.  While the Presence was there, he said he had never felt as right, as whole, as if somehow, he had found himself, he had come home to himself.  He kept saying that it was like being a round peg in a round hole.  He would have left us all then and there, he told me, had the Presence made the offer. Thankfully (for me and us), that did not occur.

My father got a taste that  night of what Joe is experiencing now 24/7:  ‘At Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore’.

Go well Joe, but know you are loved and missed by us all. And you and I will enjoy a good catch up later.

Lisa Severine Nolland PhD, is Convenor, Marriage Sex and Culture Group, Anglican Mainstream.

(1) is a excellent summary, as is; also

More tributes here and here

See also:

Vimeo allows jihadist and porn but shuts down ex-gay Christian testimony, by Michael Brown, Christian Post




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