Conversion Therapy: All the Rage

Boeeuen Choo, "My beautiful children"At Psychology Tomorrow, we believe that what is healing and empowering about therapy is exactly what humans achieve in the creation of art. In order for therapy to be both affective and effective, two very different concepts, the practitioner and client must meet on a multilayered, invisible terrain, far beyond ebony-leather couches and warm-toned lighting. To put it as simply as possible: There must be trust.

Only weeks ago, following a maelstrom of controversy over their support for including “Conversion” or “Reparative” therapists in their directory, Psychology Today was forced to deal with a problem quite common to those outside the realm of minority status: Indifference.

True, their directory has included many LGBTQ-oriented therapists. However, their inability to comprehend the gravity of also including these “Conversion” therapists causes those of us who struggle as part of one or more minorities a twinge of pain that can never be fully described.

“Conversion” or “Reparative” therapy places its focus on discussing a client’s sexual impulses and desires as symptomatic of a pathology, rather than focusing on the validity and authenticity of these essential components of sexuality. Instead of understanding these urges, exploring them as part of a fulfilling emotional, psychospiritual foundation, “Conversion” or “Reparative” therapy frames such behavior as unacceptable, and the “therapist” assists the client in understanding possible reasons why the behavior exists for them, what the behavior entails, and how to eradicate it. Of course, as such an intrinsic part of our psyche, it is impossible to erase one’s sexuality — and so the client is eventually made to feel, either directly or indirectly, that they are “failing” or a “lost cause.” This same experience will be shared whether the “therapist” convinces the client that their sexuality is a choice, or even if the “therapist” believes the client’s sexuality is intrinsic, thereby resorting to suggested ways the client should reframe or circumvent the manifestations of their “problem.”

Perhaps the most disturbing part of this practice is one of its target demographics: children.

It is challenging enough for any child to begin discovering sexuality. However, when a supposed professional is enlisted to invalidate the child’s most intrinsic impulses, just at the precipice of his or her consciousness of them, the results are not only difficult to assess — they are often traumatizing.

By its terms alone, “Conversion Therapy” and “Reparative Therapy” connote powerful imagery that defies and defiles what therapeutic practice represents: understanding and healing.

The ability to convert is a religious concept, presupposing an individual’s ability to modify her or his concrete approach to spirituality. The same can not be said of an individual’s psyche, which can not be “converted” from unhealthy to healthy, female to male, or gay to straight. People, as living, fluid creatures of experience, may be able to understand and heal — but there is no black-and-white ability to alter a human being’s mind toward a singular, definitive end. There are always, always consequences — and those consequences, in a therapeutic context, are always meant to be experiential, questionable, unverifiable, and positive. The subject of observation, the client, the infinite variable, is the very witness and determinant of its efficacy as a practice, making therapy one of the most celebrated art forms humanity has ever known.

The labels that “Conversion Therapy” brings up are both restrictive and, more importantly, damaging.

Having a person tell you that he is “happy” will never be a full indicator of his conscious or subconscious mind. Having a person check a box can only be quantifiable insofar as that person has reported honestly and accurately. Having a person in a position of authority tell you or agree with you that you need to be “repaired,” like a broken machine, can never be an act of healing. It is an act of negative reinforcement, an act of personal belief, and ultimately, an act of aggression.

In our efforts to comprehend how such blatant ignorance and intolerance is still supported throughout our society, I recognized an important “argument” many posed in defense of such “therapy.”

Many people immediately responded that the right to seek therapy of any kind is the patient’s prerogative, and any attempt to censor therapy was a denial of an individual’s freedom. How dare anyone keep a troubled individual from receiving the type of help he or she is seeking?

On the surface, this argument seems cogent. The fault in such logic is the assumption that “Conversion” or “Reparative” therapy is a valid, healing form of psychological practice. Even if we remove from the argument the criminalization of such forms of “therapy” in our country in states such as California and in countries throughout, for example, the United Kingdom, because of their inevitable detrimental impact on individuals, the logic still fails.

It is only a violation of freedom if such practice were deemed to be viable. Since 1973, the governing bodies of psychology and psychiatry have denounced any attempt to qualify homosexual behavior as symptomatic of mental illness. Therefore, any attempt to “convert” it out of someone or “repair” someone of it is, by our own society’s standards, baseless.

Following such logic, those arguing against censoring such a form of “therapy” would also have to suggest a suicidal person visit a “Gun Therapist” to receive the treatment they seek. After all, wouldn’t stopping a person who seeks this form of assistance be a violation of their freedom? If they want to die, they should absolutely be allowed that treatment, right? If someone struggling with her sexuality wants to convert herself to a completely heterosexual woman, shouldn’t she deserve that right? Fortunately, there are no “Gun Therapists” because feeling suicidal is treated with sensitivity, understanding, and validation. And there should be no “Conversion Therapists” because finally, after decades of struggle, our society is beginning to treat those of alternative sexualities and genders with sensitivity, understanding, and validation.

We at Psychology Tomorrow understand the plight of the misunderstood, the unclassifiable, the invisible, and the silenced. After receiving word of such fraudulent “therapists” being allowed to remain in Psychology Today’s directory, then having their directory manager support their inclusion, we felt it to be our responsibility to ask our global community to tell us their thoughts.

Here is a sample of the insightful, meaningful responses we received, prior to Psychology Today backpedaling and reconsidering the seriousness of their lack of judgment. Last names have been omitted in the interest of respecting privacy, but the credentials of many remain as an important indicator of these individuals as professionals in their respective practices. Let these words serve as testimony to the world that “Conversion” and “Reparative” therapy be stricken from our cultural vocabulary:

Thank you for informing me of this atrocious decision by Psychology Today. Do you think they would be willing to include immersion therapy as a viable treatment for rape and torture? – Jeff, LCSW, BCD 

 

I am seriously considering dropping my monthly membership in Psychology Today as a licensed Psychotherapist, because of its refusal to take a stand regarding Conversion Therapy.  If they feel that strongly about keeping the business of those folks then they certainly will not want the likes of me on their website. – Michel

 

Dear Psychology Today,

I have been listed on your therapist directory for several years now, and was surprised to read that you are publishing listings for therapists doing gay-conversion therapy. I’m sure you are aware that this practice is considered psychologically harmful by many, including the APA, and I am feeling some unease at listing my practice on a site that has so far refused to be on the right side of history on this issue. I would urge you to your practice of accepting listings for gay-conversion therapy. – Respectfully, Tom, MFT

 

I am appalled that Psychology Today lists “Conversion Therapists” in their directory. That practice is completely unethical and harmful to our clients. – Julie

 

As a gay man and a clinical psychologist, I can find no ethically or morally acceptable reason that gay conversion therapy should be legitimized. Any person familiar with evidence-based treatment should see that this is thinly-veiled religious bigotry rather that scientific practice and should be banned. -Anonymous

 

To the editor of Psychology Today, 

Your excuse to advertise conversion therapy is that the therapy is still considered legal. You are either bigoted or too ignorant to know how harmful this therapy has been proven to be, and that it DOES NOT WORK! 

As a gay man and resident of CA where this practice is illegal, it is extremely offensive to me that you do not see that their endorsement is harmful. I will consider canceling my advertisement if you don’t change their policy. As it is, you have the best directory service available so I feel as if my hands are tied.

I appreciate that you finally have a cover story on same sex couples, though I have yet to read it. Up to now, it has been painfully clear that you do not consider the LGBT population as equal or important enough to consider a more diverse inclusiveness in your articles. 

I am extremely concerned about both your lack of progress and awareness of a huge segment of your advertisers and consumers. Get with the program already. – Andrew, MA, MFT, Los Angeles, California

 

It is my professional opinion that gay-conversion therapy is harmful to individuals seeking relief from distress caused by their sexual orientation. Psychology Today should take a stand that is aligned with solid outcome-based research by not including any therapist who uses such destructive practices. – Regards, Dr. John, PsyD, Psychologist and Life Coach, Decatur, GA

 

It is a travesty that Psychology Today would even consider endorsing Gay Conversion Therapy. They completely undermine any credibility they might have by this act. – Thank you, Connie

 

I’m appalled that Psychology Today has included and welcomed Conversion Therapy as a morally sound and viable treatment. Thank you and thank Psychology Tomorrow for your important voice in opposing Conversion Therapy and Psychology Today. – Gratefully, Wendy, Ph.D. – Adolescent Psychotherapy Consultation, San Francisco, CA

 

Thank goodness for love in all forms and that I live in an era and culture in which Het, Bi, Trans, Gay, Les, and all consensual genetic & social variations can be lived rather than repressed. 

Thank you for taking a stand against the barbaric cruelty of “conversion therapy,” ie. brainwashing. -Elizabeth

 

I have been asked to do hypnotherapy to ‘erase or block something that the client wants to eliminate’.

I explain that that is NOT hypnotherapy–that is ‘brain washing’ and violent action to take on a psyche.

My guess is that ‘Conversion Therapy’ would be akin to this kind of psyche violation and violence–and NOT something to do even if a client is mistakenly asking you for it. – Jill, MA, LPC, CMT

 

The idea that therapists would seek to impose their own agenda on a client via “Conversion Therapy” is abhorrent to me.  This practice should be recognized as what it is, an abuse of power, and outlawed.  I hope Psychology Today will cease supporting it by listing it as a valid therapy in their directory.  – Cherylann, LMFT

 

Just wondering if Psychology Today could get me referrals for Nymphomania, Hysteria, Frigidity, Ego-Dystonic Homosexuality, Homosexuality, Female Sexual Dysfunction, Promiscuous Personality Disorder, and other sexual pathologies that don’t exist.  -Winston

 

I’m deeply disappointed and shocked that Psychology Today is promoting the medieval practice of so-called “conversion therapy,” which has been proven to not only be ineffective, but harmful as well.  I personally plan to end my subscription to Psychology Today if they do not end this very homophobic and unprofessional business practice.  – Greg, LMFT

 

Conversion Therapy is unacceptable and cannot be supported by any professional organization.  – Jennifer, M.Ed., M.L.S.P., LPC

 

I am a 23-year specialist in providing gay-affirmative to gay men and gay male couples, almost exclusively. I am appalled at Psychology Today after paying $30 a month to list my practice with them for over 10 years. I am the founder of GayTherapyLA.com, and I will be severing all ties with Psychology Today.  – Best, Ken

 

I am saddened to hear that “Conversion Therapy” is still promoted on Psychology Today. I am working for tolerance, inclusion and acceptance of all.  – Jacqueline

 

I wanted to say that the entire process of “conversion therapy” is profoundly damaging to individuals. Part of that stems from the therapy itself – unproven, poorly supported by clinical data – and the other part from the unregulated nature of putting it into practice. There is nothing at all the screens, evaluates or stops individuals with nefarious motives from parlaying this “therapy” as part of a much larger agenda. For this as on alone, it strikes me that supporting it in any way shape or form is not simply disingenuous, but ethically wrong. – Thank you, Lola

 

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