I'm your handyman: a history of reparative therapies

J Homosex. 1998;36(1):19-42. doi: 10.1300/J082v36n01_02.


Reparative therapy has come to generically define talking cures that claim to change an individual's homosexual orientation to a heterosexual one. Although other treatment modalities have also promised to "cure" homosexuality, the history of reparative therapies has become inexorably linked with that of psychoanalysis. This paper reviews the history and theoretical assumptions of psychoanalytically-oriented practitioners, beginning with Freud's juvenilization of gay people to the later analysts who pathologized and attempted to change same-sex attractions. The evolution of reparative therapists from medically concerned practitioners into antigay political activists is also discussed. The evolution of one branch of psychoanalytic theory into an antihomosexual political movement illustrates the permeability of boundaries between clinical issues and political ones. In their open support of antigay legislation, reparative therapists have moved from the traditional psychoanalytic center and have been embraced by conservative religious and political forces opposed to homosexuality. In doing so, they have apparently adopted religious organizational practices themselves, preaching dogma and stifling dissent. The increasing marginalization of reparative therapists from the psychoanalytic mainstream illustrates how psychoanalysis per se is neither gay-affirming nor condemning, although psychoanalytic practitioners may fall into either of these categories.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • History, 20th Century
  • Homosexuality / history*
  • Homosexuality / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Politics
  • Psychoanalysis / history*
  • Psychoanalytic Theory
  • Psychoanalytic Therapy*