A growing international movement is calling for legal bans on any form of so-called ‘Conversion Therapy’, used to ‘convert’ homosexuals into heterosexuals. Based on untruths, half-truths and deliberately confused truths, the campaigners have so far persuaded Germany, Malta, three Canadian provinces and 50 US States to ban such therapy, while Australia, Northern Ireland and Great Britain are among those considering it.
What is Conversion Therapy?
Most of these therapies should rightly be banned: the list includes aversion therapies, using drugs, enemas, electrical shock treatments and also brain surgery. All these were administered by the medical profession. Not only were they cruel, but there is no evidence that any of them worked. At a time when homosexuality was illegal, individuals were pressurised to have their orientation changed by such methods.
The deliberate untruth, which campaigners frequently tell us, is that, ‘People cannot change their orientation because they are born that way’. This is clearly untrue. No genetic evidence has ever demonstrated this, despite extensive genetic research. Neither is it supported by the study of identical twins. They overlook the fact that many homosexuals admit to being ‘fluid’ in their sexuality. Bisexuality is demonstrated whenever middle-aged adults suddenly declare they are gay, after being happily married for 20 years and having several adult children.
The deliberate confusion is that all these therapies were discontinued over 50 years ago! Nowadays homosexual activity is legal in many countries, along with gay marriage. In the West, only talking therapies are available to those who want help. These include professional counselling, pastoral care, prayer and support from family and friends. In Australia, LGBT pressure groups are now seeking to ban all of these.
The half-truths they promote are that ‘talking therapies’ don’t work and are harmful, causing clients to become depressed and suicidal. Certainly, counselling treatments may well be unsuccessful and are always difficult to evaluate scientifically. You cannot do ‘double blind, controlled, cross-over trials’, as there is no possibility of finding a placebo for counselling.
As for causing harm, homosexuality itself runs a high risk of harm. It is strongly associated with mental illness, alcoholism, drug addictions and a greatly increased risk of catching STDs, which may have life-long, even fatal consequences. These are all good reasons for wanting to move away from homosexual behaviour and culture. Yes, counselling can also be stressful, which is true for treating any addictive behaviour.
Hear what Elton John had to say in his autobiography, ‘Me’. He admits he was addicted to drugs, alcohol, food and sex (pp225/6). He chose to undergo counselling therapy in a residential unit, but he walked out after six days. He said, ‘It was tough…I couldn’t sleep…I had panic attacks…mood swings…depression and anxiety…I felt ill…weak and lonely.’ (pp230/1)
A further deception that campaigners spread, repeating it like a mantra, is that homosexuality ‘is not an illness and therefore cannot be cured’. Both these terms are deliberately misleading. Bereavement, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders and relational difficulties are not ‘illnesses’ that can be ‘cured’. They are, however, stressful conditions for which counselling is often effective in resolving. Such problems are ‘managed’ not cured and they commonly recur if therapeutic techniques are ignored or further aggravating events happen. Counselling rarely ‘cures’ anyone and the therapist may be as important as the therapy in achieving a good result.
Does counselling ever lead to change in a person’s sexual orientation? Yes, though not always or even often, but there is a growing number of people around the world, who now happily identity themselves as being ‘Ex-Gay’. If the identity of LGBT people is to be respected, then so should the identity of ex-gays – LGBTX. Success may depend on a younger age, high motivation and the degree of sexual fluidity.
Is such talking-therapy ethical? Yes. To ban such therapy would be seriously unethical, denying basic human rights – freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, and freedom to choose your treatment – while condemning people to live a lifestyle they want to leave.
‘The overall aim of counselling is to provide an opportunity for the client to work towards living in a way he or she experiences as more satisfying and resourceful.’ BACP code of practice.
For counsellors to ban such therapy is a denial of their ‘raison d’être’, the very purpose of their existence. Yet many therapists are now prohibited from helping clients troubled by their sexual orientation. Whether there is a legal ban or not, they will be struck off their professional registers if they offer it.
It is the therapist’s task to stand where their client stands. It is not the therapist’s role to introduce his own agenda and values into the counselling relationship. Ironically, the transgender debate highlights the importance of counselling for those who wish to change their sexual identity. This campaign to ban talking therapies for those who are troubled by their sexual orientation and request counselling should be vigorously opposed.
Peter May is a retired general practitioner in Southampton, United Kingdom