It should go without saying: conversion therapy is an outdated mode of treatment for an issue that is not, and has not been, a mental health diagnosis for quite some time. GoodTherapy.org does not endorse conversion therapy—also known as reparative therapy or sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE)—for homosexuality, nor does it permit mental health professionals to advertise those services to website visitors.
On March 3, 2015, The Huffington Post published an article in which Human Rights Campaign, a leading LGBT rights group, condemned Psychology Today, an online therapist directory, for allowing its therapist members to advertise conversion therapy on its profile pages. A representative of Psychology Today told The Huffington Post that the company did not intend to begin removing or refusing membership to therapists who offer conversion therapy. The backlash and criticism from health professionals, human rights advocates, and others was immediate.
Within 24 hours, Psychology Today had changed its position. In a statement issued March 4, the company asserted that it does not condone conversion therapy, and has notified therapist members that they would be de-listed if their profiles advertised this practice. Their updated stance is in line with what the majority of the mental health community has come to believe: conversion therapy has no place in mainstream mental health care.
Flaws in the Conversion Concept
Conversion therapy, also known as reparative therapy, is a controversial type of treatment aimed at changing a homosexual person’s sexual orientation on the assumption that homosexuality is an inherent flaw or disorder that must be altered. While homosexuality was once listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) as a mental health diagnosis, it was removed from the DSM by the time the third edition was published in 1980 with support from the professional mental health community.
In addition to rejecting conversion therapy as a useful treatment, GoodTherapy.org does not acknowledge homosexuality as a mental health disorder. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) agrees; a statement issued by the board of the APA in 1998 states: “The American Psychiatric Association opposes any psychiatric treatment, such as ‘reparative’ or ‘conversion’ therapy, which is based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder, or based upon a prior assumption that the patient should change his/ her homosexual orientation.”
The APA isn’t the only organization to reject conversion therapy, as research over the course of years has affirmed concerns over conversion therapy as a treatment modality. The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, the National Association of Social Workers, the American Psychological Association, and the American Medical Association, among others, have issued statements against reparative therapy. Many cite research that suggests conversion therapy is likely to lead to harmful outcomes, such as contributing to anxiety, depression, relationship problems, self-loathing, and other issues. According to the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), “Services that purport to ‘cure’ people with non-heterosexual sexual orientation lack medical justification and represent a serious threat to the health and well-being of affected people.”
Several states consider conversion therapy detrimental enough that they have enforced or are considering bans on it. California, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C. have banned the use of conversion therapy on minors. Other states that have pending legislation to ban reparative therapy include New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Hawaii.
Given a lack of research that supports the effectiveness or safety of conversion therapy, the American Psychiatric Association “recommends that ethical practitioners refrain from attempts to change individuals’ sexual orientation, keeping in mind the medical dictum to ‘First, do no harm.’ ”
GoodTherapy.org Philosophy of Membership
GoodTherapy.org is founded on a mission and vision to reduce harm in therapy by educating consumers so they can be equipped with resources and services that will help them achieve their mental and emotional health goals.
When mental health professionals sign up to be listed in the GoodTherapy.org therapist directory, applicants are required to certify that the services they provide accord in orientation and attitude to its Elements of Healthy Therapy Statement. A peer-review team verifies each clinician’s credentials and screens his or her profile content to ensure the person’s practice is in line with elements of good therapy. Profiles are reviewed for questionable content, such as homophobic, sexist, racist, or other discriminatory or harmful practices or beliefs. GoodTherapy.org does not list conversion therapy or reparative therapy as a type of therapy that members can select.
It is important to note that there are people who seek therapy as part of an effort to change their sexual orientation. GoodTherapy.org’s position is in no way an invalidation of these individuals’ desires to work toward their chosen goals in therapy. GoodTherapy.org respects individuals’ rights to identify their treatment goals and choose treatment modalities that appeal to them for any reason.
It is perfectly acceptable for individuals to discuss, explore, and evaluate their sexual orientation in the context of a therapeutic relationship. Trained therapists should be equipped to support people in these efforts without prejudice or discrimination. GoodTherapy.org works to ensure that it offers people seeking treatment quality choices so they can find a therapist who meets their unique needs.
GoodTherapy.org was founded in 2007 with the mission of:
- Reducing harm in therapy
- Advocating healthy and ethical psychotherapy practices
- Encouraging therapists to work collaboratively and nonpathologically
- Depathologizing diagnostic-based language and therapy practices
- Educating consumers about the differences between healthy and unhealthy therapy practices
Toward this end, GoodTherapy.org makes every effort to avoid and remove from its site any content—including blog material and therapist listings—that contains a homophobic, sexist, racist, ableist, or otherwise discriminatory message. Dan Fajans, director of member services at GoodTherapy.org, explains, “Everything we do, from our therapist directory, to our Continuing Education Program, to The Good Therapy Blog, to our GoodCause program and beyond, is first and foremost an effort to put this mission into action. Providing an advertising platform for conversion therapy would be directly at odds with our mission.” GoodTherapy.org takes this stand based on mounting evidence that conversion therapy causes harm; leading mental health organizations do not view it as ethical; and it requires the therapist to operate from a fundamentally pathology-based understanding of the person who is seeking therapy.
Noah Rubinstein, GoodTherapy.org’s founder and CEO, stands behind GoodTherapy.org’s position on conversion therapy both professionally and personally. As a licensed marriage and family therapist who has worked in the mental health field for over 25 years, Rubinstein elaborates:
“In general, any psychotherapy that focuses on trying to depreciate, banish, or exile a psychological aspect of a person at the expense of curiosity, appreciation, and compassion is not in the best interest of the individual. Even with issues such as depression, anxiety, addiction, anger, self-criticism, and nearly every other symptom which motivates a person to seek help, the only agenda ever set by the therapist, in my opinion, should be to help the individual understand the purpose, function, and existence of such an aspect. The decision to help a person change some aspect of themselves should be made by the person in therapy only when he or she is in a psychological state of calm and self-compassion.
“I can only imagine how difficult it is in this culture for some individuals to recognize, accept, and explore their sexuality when it differs from the majority. I assume that those who want to change their sexual orientation are under enormous pressure internally and/or externally to assimilate and that any desire to alter their sexuality does not originate from self-compassion, unless their sexual practices are harmful to self and others—which homosexuality in and of itself is not. The only way to tell, I imagine, would be to first work with an individual to access the internal resources to transcend any internal or external pressures. At that point, one could reach a place of understanding, acceptance, and self-compassion for his or her own sexuality.”
As an organization, GoodTherapy.org reiterates its support for individuals experiencing any type of mental health challenge, in any stage of their mental health journeys. No person should be made to feel inadequate or broken because of a psychological concern, and all people are worthy of healing and love—especially self-love. If you feel discouraged or troubled, or if you feel you have been treated unfairly in therapy, there is hope and help available.
We invite you to share your thoughts or comments in the “Leave a Reply” section below.
- APA Board of Trustees. Position Statement on Issues Related to Homosexuality. March 2000. Retrieved from http://www.aglp.org/pages/LGBTPositionStatements.php#Anchor-55000
- Herek, Gregory M. Facts about Homosexuality and Mental Health. Retrieved from http://psychology.ucdavis.edu/faculty_sites/rainbow/html/facts_mental_health.html
- Millar, Katharine S. The Myth Buster. February 2011. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/02/myth-buster.aspx
© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Ellen Truschel, LMFT, Certified Imago Therapist, therapist in Fresno, California