California Lawmakers Should Ban "Conversion" Therapy For Minors
Conversion therapy, also known as reparative therapy, is a concentrated effort in psychotherapy to change a person’s sexual orientation—to make straight those individuals identifying as homosexual, bisexual, or otherwise queer.
The existence of conversion therapy is, of course, contingent on the ludicrous notion that the patient isn't really changing his or her sexual orientation at all, but eradicating a perverse mental disorder that causes him or her to act in a "socially unacceptable" manner, and behave differently from the heterosexual majority. This is a notion that is not backed by any scientific evidence whatsoever, and thus it is unsurprising that it has been discredited by countless health research institutes and organizations, including the American Psychological Association (APA).
As early as 1997, the APA passed a resolution condemning conversion therapy based on the following four principles: homosexuality is not a mental disorder and does not require treatment of any sort; psychologists do not condone or participate in discriminatory practices against queer individuals; psychologists will respect the rights of all patients, including gay, lesbian, and bisexual clients; and psychologists will obtain the appropriate informed consent with regard to their work with gay, lesbian, and bisexual patients.
These principles didn’t come out of nowhere: they are based on sound logic and are derived from both the overarching values of the APA and the standards of ethics that have been the cornerstone of good health practice in America for decades. Conversion therapy, however, is in clear violation of all of them. Which basically makes it the one of grossest excuses for psychological science this country has ever seen, matched perhaps by the caging of asylum patients in the early twentieth century.
Unaccredited by the APA, conversion therapy is little more than legalized medical fraud. It allows psychologists to scam parents who buy into the homosexuality-as-a-mental-illness doctrine preached by intolerant groups, wasting their money and their time trying to change something that science (not to mention the millions of perfectly rational queer people walking around) shows is likely not to change. At least not genuinely.
Forget the fraud though; perhaps if parents want to force their children into something so ethically unsound they deserve to be scammed. Because the real problem with conversion therapy is how mentally damaging it can be.
Just like telling someone his skin is the wrong color, telling someone he’s sexually oriented the “wrong” way can make him feel depressed, excluded, and even subhuman. What’s more, if you do manage to convince someone her sexual orientation is a disease, she only becomes more discouraged when the therapy seems to produce no real results (surprise!).
In a world in which LGBT youth have one of the highest rates of suicide attempts, in which bullying tears apart youth communities and turns childhood into a complete and utter war zone, and in which intolerance is rampant and hate crimes are chronic problems, particularly among teens and young adults, conversion therapy only serves to reinforce those societal boundaries that promote that hate and intolerance. So why, when conversion therapy is a kind of psychotherapy that encourages these problems, is its exercise still permitted?
California legislators have realized that the answer to this question is unsatisfactory: there simply is no good reason for parents to be able to force their children into conversion therapy. Not only does it undermine the standards of the American Psychological Association and mental health practice in general, but it is mentally traumatizing, and perhaps even lethal in some cases. We wouldn’t pass a law allowing parents to give heroin to their kids if they thought it was good for them—why should conversion therapy be any different?
Reach Contributor Francesca Bessey here.