Oklahoma Alone in Moving to Protect Conversion Therapy

rainbow flagConversion therapy—sometimes called reparative therapy and other names—is a widely discredited form of therapy that attempts to change people’s sexual orientation or gender identity. In recent years, a number of states have moved to ban the practice for minors, and dozens of mental health advocacy and professional organizations have produced statements against it. In spite of research showing that conversion therapy can be harmful, an Oklahoma state House committee in February 2015 approved legislation designed to protect the practice.

Concerns with Conversion Therapy

Mainstream mental health organizations and the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual have long accepted that homosexuality is not a mental health diagnosis, yet conversion therapy typically focuses on changing one’s sexual orientation to heterosexual. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “therapy directed specifically at changing sexual orientation is contraindicated, since it can provoke guilt and anxiety while having little or no potential for achieving changes in orientation.”

Though there are many ways to approach therapy, ethical therapy works to increase self-awareness and self-acceptance while offering judgment-free treatment in the context of a safe therapeutic relationship. Conversion therapy can include a range of approaches such as talk therapy, prayer, re-education, or aversion therapy. In some cases, techniques used in conversion therapy may be abusive and/or dangerous. For instance, a therapist might electrically shock the person every time he or she expresses interest in a person of the same sex. A group of people who experienced abusive conversion therapy recently sued their therapist, claiming he forced them to strip naked in front of him and engage in other questionable practices.

For some people, conversion therapy is an involuntary form of treatment. Parents of gay children (or children who display behavior culturally associated with the opposite sex) sometimes force their children to undergo conversion therapy, though conversion therapists may decline to work with children who do not want the treatment. Leelah Alcorn, a 17-year-old transgender girl, sparked national outrage in late 2014 when she committed suicide after being exposed to conversion therapy.

Legal Issues Regarding Conversion Therapy

California, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C. have banned conversion therapy for minors, and states such as Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Oregon, Washington, and West Virginia have taken preliminary legislative measures to eliminate the practice or methods associated with it. In 1997, the American Psychological Association passed a resolution disavowing conversion therapy, and since then, many leading mental health governing bodies have come out against the practice.

Nevertheless, Oklahoma legislators are diligently working to protect conversion therapy. Republican Rep. Sally Kern introduced the bill to “protect” parents’ ability to pursue such treatment for their children; the bill was later amended to prohibit “physical pain, such as electroshock or electroconvulsive therapy, touch therapy, pornography exposure, or vomit-induction therapy,” controversial tactics which not all therapists who practice conversion therapy use. Kern argues that the freedom to pursue conversion therapy for minors is a parents’ rights issue.

A host of professional organizations in the field of mental health and social work have spoken out against the bill. On March 4, 2015, GoodTherapy.org affirmed its opposition to conversion therapy, and declines to list in its therapist directory mental health professionals who advertise conversion therapy as a service they offer.

References:

  1. APA resolution on “reparative therapy” (1997). Retrieved from http://psychology.ucdavis.edu/faculty_sites/rainbow/html/resolution97.html
  2. Fox, F. (2015, January 8). Leelah Alcorn’s suicide: Conversion therapy is child abuse. Retrieved from http://time.com/3655718/leelah-alcorn-suicide-transgender-therapy/
  3. Gay conversion therapy bill clears Oklahoma House committee. (2015, February 24). Retrieved from http://newsok.com/gay-conversion-therapy-bill-clears-oklahoma-house-committee/article/5396127
  4. Homosexuality and adolescence. (1993). Retrieved from http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/92/4/631.full.pdf
  5. Iowa senate panel approves ban on conversion therapy. (2015, February 17). Retrieved from http://stlouis.cbslocal.com/2015/02/17/iowa-senate-panel-approves-ban-on-conversion-therapy/
  6. Michael Ferguson, et al. v. Jonah, et al. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/case-docket/michael-ferguson-et-al-v-jonah-et-al
  7. Steinmetz, Katy. (2014, June 30). California Ban on Gay Conversion Therapy Stands. Time. Retrieved from http://time.com/2940790/california-ban-on-gay-conversion-therapy-stands/

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Bryan C.

    Bryan C.

    March 6th, 2015 at 8:53 AM

    I spent well over a decade immersed in “conversion therapy.” I was a true believer. By 31, I had a girlfriend but there I was taking the elevator to the top of the Empire State Building and once I made it to the top, I planned on jumping. My truth was abominable to the Church and shameful to my parents should they ever find out. Ultimately, conversion therapy proved to be a deceptive form of soul torture, forcing me to declare war on myself, fueling my self-hatred and internalized prejudice to a psychiatric pitch. I became obsessed with my sexuality and compulsive in my efforts to eliminate it. All the words, the lies, the false studies heralded by James Dobson, Pat Robertson, and the Religious Right fueled my crusade. But the message that my immutable true colors were unacceptable left scars on my soul. And I’m hardly alone. If only Sally Kern knew the damage being done… I hope we can put a ban on the practice before another kid jumps or steps in front of a moving train.
    Bryan C.
    Author, Hiding from Myself

  • Peter G.

    Peter G.

    March 6th, 2015 at 5:35 PM

    Hi guys. I started this kind of therapy 2 yrs ago and it does work for some guys, about 25% of them, mostly those who never acted out with another guy, masculine type of homosexuals, which I include myself into and bisexuals. It works for me. I am still in the therapy. At times it gets difficult, but it is worth the effort. Now I even have spontaneous opposite sex attractions once or twice a week without same sex attractions. The key is to defeat dissociation. To be present in here and now when talking to a guy you feel inferior to. Long live free choice of therapy

  • Yolanda

    Yolanda

    March 7th, 2015 at 4:08 AM

    After reading the comments from Peter and Bryan, I am more inclined to believe that a practice like this is doing far more harm than it is good. Who is getting anything out of denying who they really are?

  • Gene N

    Gene N

    March 7th, 2015 at 5:04 AM

    Change is possible. I don’t call it conversion therapy. I call it walking in obedience to Christ through the Holy Spirit. We are all at different levels of healing/change/obedience over our many and various conditions or sins but, that is what picking up your cross daily means. Am I in denial to my Same Sex Attraction? YES! Absolutely, as a follower of Christ I will deny myself just like the heterosexual porn and sex addict who now lives in faithfulness to his wife and her alone. This won’t work for everyone. Christianity is offered to all but not all will follow. How outlandish and INTOLERANT to try to legislate faith. If, as A Christian, I don’t like what Hollywood puts out I’m told, “Don’t watch it.” However, if the Gay Gestapo doesn’t like my adherence to my Biblical beliefs, I am told, “You will be shut down…persecuted…re-educated….”

  • Inez

    Inez

    March 7th, 2015 at 11:13 AM

    I am so stunned that this is something that people really thinks works. I don’t think that this would work for homosexuals any more than it would work if someone tried to “convert” me into a lesbian!

  • Claudia Smith

    Claudia Smith

    March 7th, 2015 at 9:54 PM

    I am a therapist who also has a journalism background. It is important to be accurate in what we report, both as a journalist and of course as a therapist. To correct several points in this article, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals has put the Reparative Therapy Ban, in California, on hold in December of 2012, pending further investigation. it did not take effect Jan 1, 2013, as previously planned. Another important point is that it is unethical to force anyone under 18 yrs old to participate in therapy; these children and teens hold the privilege on making the decision to engage in therapy for themselves. Their parents or any counselor cannot legally force them into unwanted therapy. I have seen both children and teens appreciate the opportunity to explore and discuss gender issues and possible gender confusion. In fact, most of these clients have actually gone to their parents and asked to be able to go to a counselor and talk about these things, rather than their parents making the decision to take them, first. Good ethical therapists, which most of us are, clearly do not try to force children, teens, or adults into making any decision on what they want to believe or act upon. Instead, counseling is simply an opportunity to increase a client’s self-awareness and acceptance; counselors give these clients a safe environment to do just that. This is a tough world to live in these days, professionals are coming to realize that bullying is happening to kids and teens as much in person as it is online. Kids and teens, alike, are suffering from loneliness and alienation, as well as a concern about what they sometimes perceive as a lack of acceptance and quality communication with their parents, no matter what may be at the core of their struggle. Many counselors consider it a privilege to help kids and teens as well as get families together in counseling to improve their communication and quality of life in their particular family challenges.

  • The GoodTherapy.org Team

    The GoodTherapy.org Team

    March 9th, 2015 at 12:23 PM

    Thank you for your comment, Claudia. Please note that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2013 upheld the California ban on conversion therapy for minors, and the Supreme Court in 2014 declined to hear two challenges to that ruling. We’ve added a final reference to the piece to support this.

    We agree with your assertion that good therapists do not engage in therapy with a child against his or her will, even at the behest of parents. Unfortunately, in rare instances it does happen. We appreciate your support of ethical therapy practices.

  • Slade

    Slade

    March 10th, 2015 at 11:18 AM

    I guess that if this is something that the individual wishes to pursue, it would be good for them to know that there are those who specialize in this area and who feel qualified to help them.

  • Claudia S.

    Claudia S.

    March 10th, 2015 at 11:03 PM

    Thank you Good Therapy.org Team for the above update. I did read this article from the bibliography you provided. This article goes on to say that New Jersey’s ban is set to be heard by the 3rd Circuit Court of appeals on July 9. If there turns out to be a split in rulings between the 9th and 3rd Circuit Courts, the Supreme Court may be revisiting the issue again. Liberty Counsel will continue their fight to overturn this ban. I believe this ban short-changes our youth from their opportunities to explore gender confusion issues, and in my opinion appears to limit their freedoms, which this country has previously fought so hard to allow and preserve……that seems very sad!

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