Gay conversion therapy, while extremely controversial, has proven itself to be a worldwide prominent fixture. Its practice continues in most countries around the globe as well as 41 states in the U.S. In recent years, a handful of countries – which include Argentina, Brazil, Taiwan and regions in Canada and Australia – have made the decision to ban conversion therapy. In fact, mental health officials in many countries and states/provinces where conversion therapy is legal share a general consensus that it’s not something anyone should be spending their money on. Why, exactly? Read on to see why conversion therapy isn’t worth anyone’s time.
What is Gay Conversion Therapy?
Gay conversion therapy is a practice that is meant to make LGBT people change their sexual orientation. Conversion therapy can also be referred to as reparative therapy, or Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE). Conversion therapy is not a standardized treatment approved by the American Psychological Association (APA).
A Brief History
Conversion therapy had its beginning in the early 1900’s, during the years of Sigmund Freud’s research. Freud is famous for his psychoanalytic research on sexuality – he questioned the possibility of converting homosexual people. In 1920 however, when Freud was tasked with converting a lesbian patient to heterosexuality, Freud himself stated that changing orientation was highly unlikely. Against this diagnosis, many people today continue to try.
Today, counselors and organizations worldwide practice conversion therapy, including JIFGA (previously JONAH) – an American religious organization previously sued for consumer fraud – and the California based National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), which uses unsanctioned and unproven methods in an attempt to convert homosexual clients.
Today, there are an estimated 698,000 LGBTQ adults in the U.S. alone who have received conversion therapy – half of which went under the practice before they were even 18. An estimated 20,000 LGBTQ youth will undergo conversion from licensed therapists, while another 57,000 will face conversion by religious organizations.
While some methods of conversion therapy involve talk therapies like psychoanalysis or cognitive-behavioral therapy, some practitioners attempt to reduce same-sex attraction by means of hormonal treatments and seizure-inducing electro-shock therapies – which, while misused in fending off homosexuality, can actually be helpful for those who suffer major depression. Some researchers use aversion therapies, which include giving subjects sickening drugs while showing them same-sex erotica. Other techniques involve hypnosis and religious intervention, punishment oriented therapy, as well as “teaching” subjects romantic and social behaviors that are more stereotypical to their gender.
There is an overwhelming number of individuals who – whether they went to therapy willingly or not – have spoken out against the efficacy of conversion therapy. Sam Brinton – a key player in the Trevor Project, an LGBTQ suicide prevention service – has even told the New York Times that his experience in conversion therapy was torturous and inhumane.
There’s Evidence That it Doesn’t Work
Typo in the title. There are heaps of evidence that it doesn’t work. The APA does not consider homosexuality a mental disorder and therefore does not deem it something that can be cured. Pro-conversion groups who disagree and believe homosexual/queer behavior should and can be changed have failed to present the APA with substantial evidence to back their claim.
An APA taskforce committed to researching sexual orientation has only determined that changing someone’s orientation is very uncommon; study participants continued to report same-sex attractions after conversion therapy and showed no significant attraction to the opposite gender.
Researchers aren’t the only ones who agree that conversion therapy doesn’t make a dent in changing sexuality – there have been hundreds of lawsuits against pro-conversion groups and facilities due to consumer fraud and emotional distress. These include cases like Katherine McCobb – who spent over $70,000 on therapy over an 8 year period – and a man in China who was forcibly admitted to a psychiatric hospital for gay conversion therapy.
Is There Any Evidence that it Does Work?
There are lobbyists who continue to champion conversion therapy today. Many refer to a 2003 study by psychiatrist Dr. Robert Spitzer as proof that conversion therapy works. Spitzer interviewed conversion therapy patients and solely relied on their answers as proof that some people could change their sexual orientation. Critics as well as Spitzer himself, who agreed that the study was flawed and no measurable indicators of orientation change, have since debunked this study. Spitzer later fought to remove homosexuality from the APA’s mental disorder list in 1973.
It can be Dangerous
The psychological community has responded nearly unanimously that conversion therapy can be harmful to those it is practiced on. In 2009, the APA reported that conversion therapies give patients high risks of:
- Social withdrawal
- Suicidal tendencies
- Substance abuse
- Low self-esteem
- Feelings of anger and hostility
- Emotional intimacy issues
- Sexual dysfunction
- High-risk sexual behavior
- Loss of faith (religious or otherwise)
Kirk Murphy, who underwent conversion therapy in the early 70s, has been a poster child for the dangers of gay conversion therapy. Murphy was 5 at the time of his treatment and was punished by means of neglect or physical abuse whenever he displayed feminine behavior. Though his story was initially labeled a success by George Rekers, who oversaw Murphy, Kirk began to display distress and suicidal tendencies by age 17, and then took his own life by age 38.
I’m Being Sent to a Conversion Program Against my Own Will. What Do I do?
Many who are sent to conversion therapy are under 18 and live under parental ruling. Choosing to act against the word of parents who want their children converted can often mean worsened child-parent relationships, as well as abuse or even being LGBTQ youth being run out of their homes. Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to being sent to conversion therapy.
But, there are still steps you can take to ensure your physical and mental safety. Contact a friend or family member you can trust and let them know about your situation. Let them know you need a place to stay, and that home may no longer be safe or welcoming for you.
Still feel incapable of leaving on your own? Contact the Trevor Project. The Trevor Project is a lifeline dedicated to assisting young people in crisis. The Trevor Project is active in the fight against conversion therapy in the U.S., and they can give you the resources and information you need to protect yourself, whether you’re in the U.S. or not. You can call their lifeline at 1-866-488-7386. Don’t feel safe calling at home? You can text “Trevor” to 1-202-304-1200 to text-chat with a counselor.
What are your thoughts on conversion therapy? Do you have anything you’d like to add to the conversation? Let us know what you think by writing in the comments section down below.
“#BornPerfect: The Facts About Conversion Therapy.” National Center for Lesbian Rights, 6 Dec. 2016, www.nclrights.org/bornperfect-the-facts-about-conversion-therapy/.
Brinton, Sam. “I Was Tortured in Gay Conversion Therapy. And It’s Still Legal in 41 States.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 24 Jan. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/01/24/opinion/gay-conversion-therapy-torture.html.
“Home.” Joseph Nicolosi – Reparative Therapy™, www.josephnicolosi.com/.
“NCLR Files Consumer Fraud Lawsuit against Berkeley Therapist for Conversion Therapy.” National Center for Lesbian Rights, 1 Mar. 2018, www.nclrights.org/press-room/press-release/nclr-files-consumer-fraud-lawsuit-against-berkeley-therapist-for-conversion-therapy/.
“New Report Shows About 77,000 Young LGBTQ People Will Be Subjected to Conversion Therapy.” Williams Institute, 2 Feb. 2018, williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/williams-in-the-news/new-report-shows-77000-young-lgbtq-people-will-subjected-conversion-therapy/.
Press, Associated. “Chinese Man Wins Forced Gay Conversion Therapy Lawsuit.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 4 July 2017, www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jul/04/chinese-man-wins-forced-gay-conversion-therapy-lawsuit.
“Saving Young LGBTQ Lives.” The Trevor Project, www.thetrevorproject.org/.
Schlanger, Zoë. “The Biggest Jewish Gay ‘Conversion Therapy’ Group Still Operating after US Courts Shut It Down.” Quartz, Quartz, 11 Apr. 2018, qz.com/1250079/jonah-the-biggest-jewish-gay-conversion-therapy-organization-kept-operating-under-a-new-name-after-us-courts-shut-it-down/.