Conversion therapy is a widely discredited practice rooted in the a priori assumption that homosexuality is a mental disorder that must be “repaired” or “reversed” through treatment by a licensed health care professional. However, many of the nation’s leading medical and mental health organizations have spoken out against conversion therapy due to the dangerous practices associated with its methodological approach that include the use of shame, guilt, dehumanization, verbal abuse, and even physical aversion techniques like inducing vomiting and electric shocks. Nearly 20 years ago, the American Psychological Association (APA) published a position statement in the American Journal of Psychiatry (2000) confirming the harms of conversion therapy. In 2009, the APA issued another report enumerating a wide array of negative mental health effects associated with conversion therapy, including: anxiety, depression, suicidality, guilt, shame, hopelessness, helplessness, social isolations and withdrawal, increased substance use, stress, increased self-hatred, decreased self-esteem, problems with emotional intimacy, high-risk sexual behaviors, and deterioration of familial relationships.
To date, nine states and the District of Columbia have passed laws that prohibit state-licensed health care providers from engaging in conversion therapy with patients under the age of 18. Anti-LGBT organizations in California and New Jersey sued to have their existing conversion therapy bans overturned, but the Federal Appellate courts in both states upheld the decision to ban the use of conversion or reparative approaches to care that attempt to change the gender identity or sexual orientation of minors. In order to protect LGBT youth from undue trauma and minimize their already exacerbated health risks, legislative bans on conversion therapy should be applied to state-licensed mental health providers working with LGBT populations in the State of Virginia. The approach is in alignment with larger structural and societal prejudices against homosexuality, and the techniques employed pose serious health risks for LGBT populations.
American Psychological Association. (2009). Report of the American Psychological Association Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation. http://www.APA.org/pi/LGBT/ Resources/Therapeutic-Response.pdf
American Psychological Association. Commission on Psychotherapy by Psychiatrists. (2000). Position statement on therapies focused on attempts to change sexual orientation (reparative or conversion therapies). The American journal of psychiatry, 157(10), 1719.