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Virginia Regulatory Town Hall
Department of Health Professions
Board of Psychology
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3/18/19  5:56 am
Commenter: Deborah Hawkins

Enforce a standard of care; clarify the practice of CT is unacceptable

My name is Deborah Hawkins and I’m a Virginia licensed Marriage & Family Therapist.Our standards of practice say a licensed counselor shall: “Be able to justify all services rendered to clients as necessary and appropriate for diagnostic or therapeutic purposes”[1]. The APA determined in 1973…that’s forty-five years ago…that homosexuality is not to be classified as a mental disorder. Therefore, a professional counselor cannot diagnosis nor treat homosexuality as a mental disorder.

Homophobic attitudes have been institutionalized in nearly every aspect of our society including social and religious circles. The strong desire to be like others and accepted may cause LGBTQ individuals and/or their families to want to identify with the dominant culture or their religious community, free from discrimination and social devaluation. As a group, LGBTQ children experience unique stressors and developmental challenges. They develop depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicidality at higher rates than those in the general population.[2] So there’s an important role for counseling with this population dealing with homophobic stigma.

Psychologists must practice to an accepted standard of care. That means using “evidenced based” treatments – peer reviewed treatments that rely on methods proven to be safe and effective, with a goal of improve quality of life, relieve symptoms and boosting a sense of well-being. Evidenced-based treatments for children might be cognitive-behavioral therapy, family therapy and play therapies. Conversion therapy is not evidence-based. It isn’t really therapy at all: It’s total, unadulterated quackery, a painful process of humiliation and degradation that only breeds shame, self-loathing, and despair. While contemporary versions are less shocking and extreme than those of the past, they are equally devoid of scientific validity and pose serious dangers —especially to minors.

Would we allow a physician to offer a similarly fraudulent treatment based on utterly debunked science? For example, would we support treating cancer by giving a regime of coffee enemas and vitamins? There is no evidence that efforts to alter sexual orientation or gender identity by CT talk therapy are effective, beneficial, or necessary, and since CT interventions carry the risk of significant harm, they are contraindicated.[3] [4]Additionally standards say that psychologists must practice only within the boundaries of their competence, based on their education, training, supervised experience and appropriate professional experience. There is no Virginia accredited college, university, or continuing ed course that teaches or provides residents supervision on conversion therapy. Therefore, a psychologist cannot legitimately be competent in CT.

To summarize, conversion therapy is 1. unethical as it doesn’t meet an acceptable standard of care; 2. No psychologist could have received accredited training for it. 3. it is immensely harmful quackery. Government cannot free people from stigma. However, you can combat stigma by banning the use of CT by licensed psychologists.

Thank you.   Deborah Hawkins, L.M.F.T. license # 071700110


[1] Virginia Board of Counseling, Standards of Practice, Section 18VAC115-20-130

[2] Cochran SD, Mays VM, Sullivan JG. Prevalence of mental disorders, psychological distress, and mental health services use among lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults in the United States. J Consult Clin Psychol. 2003;71:53-61.

[3] American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Policy Statement on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Civil Rights, revised and approved by Council 2009. Available at: orientation_gender_identity_and_civil_rights. Accessed September 30, 2011.

[4] American Psychiatric Association. Position statement on therapies focused on attempts to change sexual orientation (reparative or conversion therapies). Am J Psychiatry. 2000;157:1719- 1721


CommentID: 70084