Section 18VAC115-20-130 of the standards of practice says a licensed counselor shall: “Be able to justify all services rendered to clients as necessary and appropriate for diagnostic or therapeutic purposes”. The American Psychiatric Association determined in 1973, forty-five years ago, that homosexuality is not to be classified as a mental disorder. A professional counselor cannot, therefore, diagnosis nor treat homosexuality as a mental disorder.
Also counselors are encouraged to use “evidenced based” treatments which rely on methods proved to be safe and effective, with a goal of improving the client’s quality of life, relieving symptoms and boosting a patient’s sense of well-being. Conversion therapy is not classified as evidence-based. Given that there is no evidence that efforts to alter sexual orientation are effective, beneficial, or necessary, and the possibility that they carry the risk of significant harm, such interventions are contraindicated. Conversion ‘therapy’ has been condemned by the American Psychiatric Association, the American Medical Association, and the American Psychological Association, none of which allows its members to practice it. In 2014, the American Association of Christian Counselors amended its code of ethics to eliminate the promotion of conversion therapy. While contemporary versions of conversion therapy are less shocking and extreme than some of those more frequently used in the past, they are equally devoid of scientific validity and pose serious dangers —especially to minors, who are often forced to undergo them by their parents or legal guardians, and who are at especially high risk of being harmed.
Another part of the standards of practice for counselors is training. Counselors must “practice only within the boundaries of their competence, based on their education, training, supervised experience and appropriate professional experience.” There is no Virginia recognized accredited college, university, or continuing education course that teaches or provides supervision to interns on conversion therapy. Therefore, technically a counselor cannot legitimately be competent in this treatment.
To summarize, first treating minors with conversion therapy is unethical because it does not meet an acceptable standard of care and a counselor could not have received accredited training for this kind of treatment. Second, no respected medical or mental-health group in the country supports conversion therapy because it is considered immensely harmful quackery. The First Amendment obviously protects homophobic expression. And government cannot free people from stigma. However, you can combat stigma by not continuing to legitimize or even tacitly endorsing conversion therapy. Let’s put this topic to rest now in Virginia and protect minors from the cruel indignity of a discredited, unethical, disgraceful practice.
Deborah Hawkins, L.M.F.T. license # 071700110