Virginia Regulatory Town Hall
Department of Health Professions
Board of Counseling
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4/17/19  7:13 am
Commenter: Dan Edwards, Ph.D.

Conversion Therapy is Harmful

I've worked with vulnerable children, youth, and families my entire career -- first as a classroom teacher and then as a clinical psychologist. Having known many healthy gay youth struggling to make it through a difficult period (called adolescence) -- I can say unequivocally that so-called "Conversion Therapy" is unethical, harmful, and dangerous. As such -- especially given the rise in suicide rates statewide -- it should be banned in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

"Conversion Therapy" attempts to teach gay youth that their feelings regarding sexual orientation are 'abnormal' and that their innate sexuality is sinful and wrong. And when it doesn’t work, youth are left feeling even worse about themselves. As impressionable youth they need to hear messages of empowerment and confirmation not threats and abuse -- which happens typically because they’ve just been subjected to complete strangers who’ve told them they MUST change. Many teens succumb to the pressure, and the personal battle ends in suicide.

For those teens who are strong enough to pull through once "Conversion Therapy" treatment ends, they’re saddled with the weight of self-hatred, depression and deteriorated family relationships. For a teenager in some of their most formative years, this type of emotional trauma can be devastating. They emerge with horror stories and flashbacks akin to members of the military with PTSD. No teen should be subjected to this. No parent should believe that this type of "therapy" actually works. (Parents need to understand that if they subject their child to this, it could forever end your relationship with them or worse; it could end their life by suicide.)

What gay teens need most is support and love. They need to be surrounded with people who can help them come to terms with their sexuality and continue loving themselves. They don’t need to have messages of self-hate reinforced by strangers. They don’t need to live in an environment that makes them feel like outsiders. Being a teen is hard enough. "Conversion Therapy" makes teen life insufferable. For many teens, it’s the final straw. Offering a 'Therapy" that puts at-risk youth at further risk of suicide -- is simply unconscionable. And inconsistent with the Oath of Hippocrates which states "First Do No Harm."

Parents tend to be allowed to make choices on behalf of their children but there are lines they may not cross -- abuse, neglect, etc. Taking a child to a doctor when the child is not sick is a mental illness (called Munchausen's by Proxy) and is a form of abuse. This country does not allow parents to choose genital mutilation (even though some cultures and religions promote this practice in the name of purity and righteousness. There are safeguards in place to protect children even from their 'well-meaning' parents. 

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