Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Book Review: Shame and Attachment Loss by Dr. Nicolosi

This is a brief but insightful review of Dr. Joseph's Nicolosi's book Shame and Attachment Loss: The Practical Work of Reparative Therapy by a fellow brother in the community, Bro. X.

This book is big breaking news. To put it simply, it is a new improved explanation of homosexuality or same-sex attraction, the latest available to us, as far as I know.

Shame and Attachment Loss: The Practical Work of Reparative Therapy (2009) is written in a readable and coherent scholarly style, and it presents an even more convincing case to people who matter in addressing the problem of SSA: our therapists and counselors.

Further, the author Joseph J. Nicolosi does not debunk in any way his former model or theory of reparative therapy for gender deficit disorder, as explained and illustrated extensively in Reparative Therapy of Male Homosexuality: A Clinical Approach (1991); he builds on it by borrowing from the work of others specializing in other fields, particularly attachment theory (which deals with the child's bonding with parents and development of self-identity) and shame and grief work (particularly the work of Martha Stark). Nicolosi's reparative theory has been expanded to include these concepts of attachment loss, shame, and grief work, making this latest model the most inclusive or cohesive, to date.

To put it in layman's terms, Nicolosi says that SSA is not merely a matter of a man erotically envying another man for manly traits he doesn't have. It is about a man who has not fully formed his sense of self due to an early life trauma/s.

Because the main target audience are practitioners in the helping professions, the language can be intimidating to outsiders. However, if one is able to grasp the first book, which can be quite technical in parts, there's no reason why this new challenging text should not be welcomed. A little effort is all it takes to get past the technical terms. We have to understand that Nicolosi has to be precise and scientific or clinical with his terms for his case to be even more convincing to his peers, most of which are hostile to his ideas. Once the reader recovers from the fear of intimidating words, one discovers that Nicolosi speaks roughly the same things as the authors we've already read before: Richard Cohen, Andrew Comiskey, Don Schmierer, et al. (Nicolosi quotes these three authors in this book.) Words and phrases like unmet needs, mother wound, father wound, fatherlessness, bullying, rejection, misogyny (hatred of women), misandry (hatred of men), etc., swirl in the mind as one reads from chapter to chapter. The book is, in fact, carefully written, carefully edited, and can be manageable to the patient reader.

The main difference of Nicolosi with other authors is that he takes an even deeper approach to explaining SSA by adding yet another distinct layer to the already multi-layered problem. The good news is he seems to have finally stumbled into the real core of the problem: The root of SSA can now be safely traced to a traumatic event/s in the child's relationship with the mother or a mother figure. This trauma, which Nicolosi identifies as attachment loss (which can occur to other children who later grow up with dysfunctions other than SSA), is identified to be the one enabling the other forms of wounding that comprise the SSA syndrome: rejection by a missing or emotionally distant father, constant rejection by one's peers and social environment, rejection of oneself, self-hatred, hatred of women, hatred of men.

Nicolosi's new model neatly explains almost everything I've been through as an SSA sufferer. What specially strikes me in this book is the author's observation that, in the counseling process, care must be taken by the counselor so that the counselee doesn't feel shamed in any way. People with SSA, he says, are a specially sensitive bunch when it comes to shame. The counselor must acknowledge that feeling in his one-on-one session with the "client," or the person with SSA closes off within himself and walls off the counselor. This stage in therapy, which requires total honesty between the two, is crucial because any perceived shaming or judgment by the counselor will inevitably be interpreted by the counselee as a repetition of the traumatic shaming or wounding by his own father/father figure.

Needless to say, dealing with persons with SSA requires a patient, strong or secure, and most of all, loving counselor/therapist.

As usual, Nicolosi shows, through example upon example in his clinical work, how the experience of pain in the SSA person's life is always a moment of growth, a moment of breakthrough. Pain, the anguishing kind, the kind that brings the individual into panicking as though on the verge of death, is shown to be the only kind of pain that heals. On a personal note, I have a lot of possible triggers in life to make that pain possible, but because of my fear of death, I've always chosen to medicate, to numb my pain via the big M and P. This kind of pain, after all, is the very kind of existential pain that we have repressed in childhood. Only when it is expressed and experienced can the underlying pathological shame and grief that have been controlling our lives unknowingly can be expressed and finally rooted out. Of course this is easier said than done; it is needless to say best experienced for oneself at the proper time.

Another novel thing Nicolosi adopts in his therapy sessions is the use of body work, in which he constantly uses bodily clues experienced by the patient to expose his real feelings in connection with an event. In this process, it is almost impossible for the patient to lie or deny because the body symptoms (usually all sorts of discomfort) present themselves as hard evidence. I have personally experienced such an approach in my trauma therapy sessions in UST's Psychotrauma Clinic (to which Joe referred me), and I think I have greatly benefited from it. What's more, this step is free from the usual threat of being shamed, judged, or invariably hurt, making the healing process smoother for all.

This book is, simply put, a must-read for all members of this list. (A belated thanks to the donor of this important book.)

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