Conversion Therapy

Oklahoma once again made national headlines during the 2015 and 2016 legislative sessions because state Representative Sally Kern proposed legislation that would have provided special protection for abusive behavioral health practices by removing professional oversight from licensed mental health professionals. Numerous state and national professional mental health organizations along with a substantial community coalition came out strongly opposed to this legislation. HB 1598 created the Parental and Family Rights in Counseling Protection Act and while it was passed through the House committee on Children, Youth and Family Services, this legislation died on the House floor.

It is not often that we can say defeating a piece of legislation actually saved lives, but with HB1598 that is exactly what happened. The fact that this bill would have removed oversight and prohibited state intervention into extreme forms of child abuse was unconscionable. We owe a debt of gratitude to the fair-minded legislators who refused to allow the bill to even get a vote on the house floor.

Background information on conversion therapy from the National Center for Lesbian Rights:

“The practices used in conversion therapy are sometimes referred to as: reparative therapy, ex-gay therapy, psychological abuse, and sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE).

All of the nation’s leading professional medical and mental health associations have rejected conversion therapy as unnecessary, ineffective, and dangerous. These groups have cautioned that the practices do not work and have warned patients that they may be harmful. For example, the American Psychological Association “advises parents, guardians, young people, and their families to avoid sexual orientation change efforts that portray homosexuality as a mental illness or developmental disorder and to seek psychotherapy, social support, and educational services that provide accurate information on sexual orientation and sexuality, increase family and school support, and reduce rejection of sexual minority youth.”

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 a patient should change his/her sexual homosexual orientation.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics has stated: “Therapy directed at specifically changing sexual orientation is contraindicated, since it can provoke guilt and anxiety while having little or no potential for achieving changes in orientation.”

The Pan American Health Organization, a regional office of the World Health Organization, has stated that these practices “lack medical justification and represent a serious threat to the health and well-being of affected people.”

In 2009, the American Psychological Association conducted a comprehensive review of the published literature on these practices and concluded that they are not supported by any reliable evidence. In fact, the APA found that the opposite was true: “The results of scientifically valid research indicate that it is unlikely that individuals will be able to reduce same-sex sexual attractions or increase other-sex attractions through SOCE.”

Similarly, in 2000, the American Psychiatric Association published a statement concluding that: “In the last four decades, ‘reparative’ therapists have not produced any rigorous scientific research to substantiate their claims of cure.”

Conversion therapy can be extremely dangerous and, in some cases, fatal. In 2009, the APA issued a report concluding that the reported risks of the practices include: depression, guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, shame, social withdrawal, suicidality, substance abuse, stress, disappointment, self-blame, decreased self-esteem and authenticity to others, increased self-hatred, hostility and blame toward parents, feelings of anger and betrayal, loss of friends and potential romantic partners, problems in sexual and emotional intimacy, sexual dysfunction, high-risk sexual behaviors, a feeling of being dehumanized and untrue to self, a loss of faith, and a sense of having wasted time and resources.

The risks are even greater for youth. Minors who experience family rejection based on their sexual orientation or gender identity face especially serious health risks. Research shows that lesbian, gay, and bisexual young adults who reported higher levels of family rejection during adolescence were more than eight times more likely to report having attempted suicide, more than five times more likely to report high levels of depression, more than three times more likely to use illegal drugs, and more than three times more likely to report having engaged in unprotected sexual intercourse compared with peers from families that reported no or low levels of family rejection.

In 2012, California became the first state to protect LGBTQ youth from dangerous and scientifically discredited efforts by state-licensed therapists to change their sexual orientation or gender identity. This law (Senate Bill 1172) prohibits therapists who are licensed by the State of California from trying to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of people under 18. In 2013, New Jersey enacted a second law (Assembly Bill 3371), and, in 2014, Washington, D.C. enacted a third. Today, NCLR is involved in passing similar legislation in dozens of other states.

These laws are needed to ensure that therapists who are licensed by the state are providing competent care and are not harming patients. Before 1973, many mental health organizations inaccurately considered same-sex attraction to be a mental illness. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association removed “homosexuality” from its official list of mental disorders. For decades, the American Psychiatric Association has recognized that being lesbian, gay, or bisexual is not a mental illness and that trying to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity is ineffective and dangerous. Despite this consensus, some therapists continue to engage in these discredited and unsafe practices.

These laws are especially needed to protect minors, who are almost always forced or coerced to undergo conversion therapy. These state-licensed practitioners frequently prey on well-intentioned parents and legal guardians who do not understand that they are putting their children at risk of serious harm.

The state has a strong interest in ensuring that licensed health care providers follow professional standards of competence and do not engage in dangerous practices that have no scientific basis and put patients at risk of severe and long-lasting damage.”

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