Why Banning Conversion Therapy May Do More Harm Than Good

Therapies promising to "cure" homosexuality are potentially harmful, but so are laws to ban them

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On September 29, Jerry Brown signed into law a bill banning therapy that purportedly “cures” gays for minors in the state of California. Brown had previously Tweeted that these practices, known as conversion therapy, “have no basis in science of medicine and they will now be relegated to the dustbin of quackery.” Almost immediately after being signed into law, a Christian legal group called the Pacific Justice Institute sued the state, saying that the ban was a violation of free speech and private relationships between youth, families and their therapists. Is the law a helpful effort to protect minors or a nanny-state intrusion into a private and intimate issue?

(MORE: The Boy Scouts of America Has It Backwards)

Both, possibly. First, it should be clearly stated that the empirical research supporting the efficacy of this form of therapy is weak, at best.  A 2009 task force report   by the American Psychological Association concluded that efforts to therapeutically change sexual orientation do not work, and carry significant risk of harm.  Consenting homosexual behavior is no more harmful than consenting heterosexual behavior, but instilling or reinforcing in patients the view that their sexual orientation is wrong can do psychological damage. Outside of religious conservatives, few defenders of conversion therapy can be found.

Whether government banning of such procedures is the most appropriate response is worth debating, however. There are a number of therapies out there which have been empirically demonstrated to range from useless to outright harmful. Scott Lilienfeld, a professor of psychology at Emory University, discussed this in a 2007 issue of Perspectives on Psychological Science. Among the therapies he looked at were questionable ones such as facilitated communication, “rebirthing” therapies, and “recovered memory” therapy. But they also included relatively popular approaches such as “Scare Straight” for kids who are at risk for delinquency, boot camps kids who are anti-social, and DARE anti-drug programs. If we are going to start down the road of banning therapies, should we not ban these all, if the research evidence continues to bear out Dr. Lilienfeld’s concerns?  Why do we ban gay conversion therapy but leave DARE programs intact?

Perhaps it’s because gay conversion therapy seems so blatantly hateful, whereas at least DARE and these other approaches are well-meaning if misguided. But the real problem here is that the field of psychology is still too fluid and unreliable to form the basis of policy decisions and laws. The empirical science tends to be “squishy” because rampant methodological flexibility issues make it possible to publish anything as if true.

(MORE: Can We Trust Psychological Research?)

Banning a particular treatment also creates a slippery slope, which is perhaps why its so rare. In one notable exception, rebirthing therapy has been outlawed in Colorado and North Carolina following several fatal accidents during treatment. But even the deplorable lobotomy has never been legally banned in the United States. Then there are some therapies, such as electro-convulsive shock therapy, which develop bad reputations but then have ultimately been proven useful and effective in some situations.

Granted, gay conversion therapy seems to be a lemon unlikely to be redeeemed. But banning it may simply drive it underground, where it won’t even be subject to state regulation or limited to therapists who are licensed. With gay conversion therapy, the treatment may be worse than the ‘problem,’ but the same could be said for government efforts to intervene.

54 comments
friday_freakin_jones
friday_freakin_jones

So are you saying that being LGBT is equivalent to being a delinquent, anti-social, or on drugs?  Because those are actual problems.  Being LGBT isn't an actual problem, it's an inherent aspect of the individual like left-handedness.

BobSF_94117
BobSF_94117

"Psychic surgery" is also illegal, if performed by someone who is or claims to be a doctor.  Yet any moron who wants to subject him- or herself to a quack in a storefront is free to do so as entertainment or unprofessional counselling or under the guise of a religious ceremony.  Are we worried enough about driving "psychic surgery" underground that that way that we should allow physicians to perform it?

 Hand-wringing about the consequences of breaking the link between professional psychology/psychiatry and the scam of "reparative therapy" is ridiculous. 

fsinsf
fsinsf

Personally I am relieved conversion is banned in California and that other states are looking to do the same.  The ban is to protect minors.  Adults can access the therapy legally.  But I think the focus is misguided in this issue.  It is the parents, not the child who has the issue and who refuse to accept their child.  It is the parents who need therapy in order to reach the point where they can accept and love their gay child.

Buddy9876
Buddy9876 like.author.displayName 1 Like

The "making it illegal will drive it underground" argument has some merit. Thing is, making beating your wife illegal drove it underground at the time as well; that doesn't mean that making wife beating legal now would make it any safer.

A moral society has a responsibility to protect the innocent in any way it can. Soon, hopefully, other dangerous child "psychology" practices will be outlawed as well.

Susmd
Susmd

My son was sexually abused by a man. My son is only 6yo. He has the right to be treated not to be a victim again and again and again. The abuse has two sides, it is devastating for the innocence of a child, but there is pleasure involved too. My son is and had always being a very masculine boy who has crushes on cute girls. However, he is showing signs of attraction to adult male who looks like his abuser.  Doesn't he have the rigth to understand the linkage between this attraction and the abuse and know this from his early years? Doesn't he have the right to openly discuss this with a therapist?  He does talk about it to me, but I get so overwhelmed, I do not know what to do or what to say to him.

 

Anyone who goes to www.survivor.org will read countless men who were sexually abused as children and have unwanted sexual attraction to other men. They do not know if they are gay or not. They are victims. They were little kids that got their innocence strong. Sexual abuse is a strong, very strong experience for kids. They make sexual associations and desires with the abuser. These adults now are so disturbed. It is so sad, I can't bear to read their confessions and imagine that my boy might  grow up to be so confused and disturbed. I want to help my child to be a happy, healthy man. He has the rigth to go to a therapist as a child and discuss openly all his feelings and sexual thoughts that are a result of the abuse. Why are people trying to take this alway from him? If this bill is not amended for children who are victim of sexual abuse, I have no option but to move out of California.

 

Read for example this confession of this man. Sexually abused as child, happily married now, but is having intrusive sexual thoughts about his early abuse. I don't what my child to have to deal with this when he grows up:

http://www.malesurvivor.org/bo...

 

Can anybody help us???

 

Starshiprarity
Starshiprarity

This doesn't take away the right to seek mental health assistance or to try to look into causes like that. It only attempts to stop people from forcing the idea on patients that they are broken and need to be fixed. That is what causes the depressive or abusive tendencies you hear about on fox. If they weren't told to be ashamed of themselves, they wouldn't feel the need to act so deplorably.

And from personal experience I can tell you that its not unusual to spend a childhood looking at girls and then start looking at men. I did so with no sexual trauma.

There are some that believe that events like the one you mention don't explicitely change the orientation of children, but merely move them into their orientations faster. That is to say, sexual abuse like this forces the child to consider their sexuality immediately with an end result identical to the one that would happen naturally later in life. Whether he was abused by a man or a woman, the result would be consistent.

Though 6 years old is a little early regardless. Give him time and let him progress naturally. Its okay to look into these feelings, but don't shame him for being who he is.

Lee Gunn
Lee Gunn

It's 'right' not 'rigth'....lady just go to social services and give your son to a family that can actually take care of him, instead of asking for parental/psychological advice in the comments section on a time article about conversion therapy. You're not that kid's best chance at a good life...

skullhammer
skullhammer

So, let me get this straight.  The gist of the article is, "everyone except right-wing whack jobs knows that this is complete and utter quackery, but, uh, maybe it isn't..."  Did I nail it? 

Amabo Kcarab
Amabo Kcarab

 The way you spell, you must have sat next to Obama when he flunked ESL.. The class had no Teleprompters.

Amabo Kcarab
Amabo Kcarab

 The way you spell, you must have sat next to Obama when he flunked ESL because the class had no Teleprompters.

Amabo Kcarab
Amabo Kcarab

China has the right attitude re gays.

nowhere1111
nowhere1111

Why are you still here then? We won't miss you and you like their methods. Everyone is happy!!

jayman419
jayman419

I disagree. Rebirthing, recovered memory therapy, 'Scared Straight' ... These are (perhaps dubious) solutions to purely psychological problems. They may be ineffective, or their effectiveness may be difficult to prove empirically, but the treatments are trying to change the mind, not the body.

Trying to convert a gay individual through therapy would be like using psychology to become taller, or change your hair or eye color.

As for DARE ... that's a whole nudder matter. It's basically a drug training course. This is a pipe, this is pot. This is how you use it. This is a needle, this is heroin, this is how you use it. Don't use it, though. Cause drugs are bad. Have you seen the meth pipe yet? After like seven decades, the war on (some) drugs must be working exactly as intended.

Amabo Kcarab
Amabo Kcarab

 What a dumb analogy.  If Homosexuality is in the brain, then psychological treatment may change it. It is not "Genetic."

jayman419
jayman419

How do you get electricity into your cave, man? I'm imagining like a dozen rats running in little wheels to power your wifi.

When in doubt, I always like to think about what Jesus said about homosexuality.

"..."  (direct quote)

jayman419
jayman419

 Maybe some day, after computers have advanced enough to model an entire functioning brain instead of just rat neurons, we may be able to find a physical cause for every psychological problem.

But even then, I still think therapy will remain an important and integral part of any treatment plan, along with medication, just as it does today.

Amabo Kcarab
Amabo Kcarab

 Gays should be given the "Chinese Treatment."  Anyone with AIDS is treated as someone with a communicable disease--put in quarantine.  That's how we got rid of many diseases.

jayman419
jayman419

Not really. Effective treatments get rid of diseases. Quarantine just gets rid of sick people.

nowhere1111
nowhere1111

Sounds like China is the place for you since you like their approach so much. Don't let OUR door hit you in your butt.

Douche_Baggin
Douche_Baggin

I want conversion therapy, but in the opposite direction: straight----->gay.

John Simon
John Simon

This guy is a Texas mook.  Maybe he should just move his stock options out of conversion therapy.

Fatesrider
Fatesrider

There are therapies that work and quack procedures that don't.  But the bottom line here is that a alleged mental health therapy is being used to "fix" a physical property of the patient.  Conversion therapy to cure 'gayness' is directly equivalent to behavioral therapy being used to cure being a blond, or having blue eyes, or being Black.

If one turns it on its head and a therapy was developed by religious hypocrites to cure "straightness", there would be a hue and cry out there to stop it because sexual orientation is a physical property of the individual.  It's not a mental defect.

Much of the issue is, of course, religion.  It infests our society on every level creating one that is obsessed with sex, but not allowed to express it except in private, and even then it's not always allowed in the manner two consenting adults agree upon.  Our laws regarding some people in society are built around  the mythological notion that all relationships recognized by by civil law must be "between a man and a woman" (despite the fact civil law recognizes only the legalities of the "contract" they've taken and has no care for the genders or numbers of the individuals involved in the contract).

Finally, we have some of these mythologies torturing individuals  by attempting to change their physical natures to conform to some mythological-based ideal in such a way that it actually harms them. 

Religions can get people to believe anything.  It doesn't mean it's true.  Conversion doesn't make a gay person straight.  It makes a gay person crazy.  Like trying to change a straight person gay, they may THINK they're gay, but inside, they know they're not.  Combine this with the fact that human sexuality isn't either/or.  It's a sliding scale encompassing degrees and variability that can change depending on the person.  Bi-curious, transsexual, transgender, bisexual - the gamut of human sexuality runs the spectrum between gay and straight. 

The reason religions want "man and woman" heralds back to the time when the religions were being founded.  If one controls a person's sex life, they control a person.  Gay sex (or ANY OTHER KIND)  doesn't fit into their predefined methods of control.  They can't change their mythology without proving to everyone it's all made up anyhow, so they try to suppress what is part of the human experience for many people.  Also, by forcing followers into a "man and woman" only relationship, these religions ensure that anyone born by that arrangement is indoctrinated into the religion from birth.  This guarantees a steady flow of new slaves into the myth.

Hippocrates doesn't have an oath for mental heath, but first do no harm seems to be the best way to deal with mental health issues.

Of course, it's better to be sure the issue is mental in the first place before attempting to treat someone.  Their mythology says it is.  Science says otherwise.

 So, yes, ban the thing.  The slippery slope mentality being used in the above argument isn't something that's likely to happen because while the efficacy of the other therapies is certainly questionable, they generally do little to no harm to the patient and there aren't a lot of people out there trying to force them on others.

Avalongod
Avalongod

Actually what you say at the end is not true.  The issue is that for some of these other therapies they do indeed appear to be harmful.  And some of them (scared straight, DARE, boot camp) are indeed often mandated by the goverment in some circumstances.

Guest
Guest

Because child abuse is illegal, and these "gay therapies" are nothing more than child abuse.

smjhunt
smjhunt

First the author says  empirical research supporting the efficacy of this form of therapy is weak, at best and then provides evidence that suggests it's non-existent, not simply weak.  Did they leave out something that would make it deserve the label weak instead of non-existent?

After this he seems to have two arguments: the slippery slope of banning unscientific therapies and the idea that it will go underground. On the slippery slope argument I think as with any law, you need to weigh the costs and benefits.  For things that are useless but harmless I think probably the cost of enforcing a ban probably doesn't make sense but as the author states, there is evidence that such therapy is harmful so I think the benefit of banning it probably outweighs the cost.

As far as it going "underground"  Banning it will certainly not cause people who are unlicensed to stop practicing  it but people like therapists whose livelihood depends on their license are not likely to do so.  Drug addicts may not care whether the person they buy their drugs from is legit and consequently drug dealing survives well after going underground but I'm thinking that parents who would take their kids to someone would be a lot less likely to use someone who is unlicensed.   Additionally, banning it will mean the practitioners can not advertise or appear in media which should reduce the temptation for parents to try it.

PaoloBernasconi
PaoloBernasconi

any conversion theory is based on religious beliefs ... therefore destined to fail, as those beliefs are clearly all false... banning them will not stop religious fanatic sex scared people from applying such theories to their victims.

I tend to agree, a law banning such practices is likely going to make more damage than  not .. but  perhaps what should be done is require a degree accredited by recognized national Universities and a federal board of psychologists  to practice any kind of psychological therapy. That will limit the religious based intervention to the fringe of the society where anyway it is hard to protect people from abuser and anyway would be of very limited occurrence. 

ShehanR
ShehanR

So are there nay form of therapy that is not harmful? Any kind of behavioral modification can have it's negative side effects. Therapists mush weigh, according to the nature of the patient.

ShehanR
ShehanR

Then why not we ban reparative/conversion therapies for pedophiles , necrophiliacs,  sadists, masochists and individuals stigmatized as having sexual perversions and paraphilias. They also did not choose to be so. They also have very strong sexual feelings. They also do stuff within their bedrooms. Where are the equal rights for them? Who stands for them? Ironically and hypocritically gays do not want to identify with them. 

conet
conet

You could argue the case for some of them, assuming therapies to reverse them even exist ("pray away the paraphelia" isn't a thing), but in the case of pedophilia and in some instances of sadism, the act directly and unwillingly harms one part involved. Don't pull a Santorum and say that homosexuality and pedophilia are in any way similar.

ShehanR
ShehanR

I was not comparing only homosexuality with other well known sexual orientations. I did the same for heterosexuality as well. All sexual orientations are equal. There is nothing wrong "perse" with any of those sexual variations. But if they cause anxiety, depression and conflicts for an individual or any other party they should have the right to do something about that.  

If a pedophile's sexual activity is limited to masturbation, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

According to gay absolute truth, reparative/conversion/change therapies only work for pedophilia and other paraphilia. But it does not work for unwanted homosexuality by which an individual could be depressed, anxious, phobic and suicidal. May be you have not met any such people, but there are some. Gay activism is so fragile that it cannot acknowledge the fact that some may want to change. They should be helped, instead of ignoring/repressing them. Isnt that what equality is about? Convincing them to embrace the gay identity is not much different from forcing a gay person to be straight. This kind of stupid laws (as it has always seen in California and with the dumbest Gov. Jerry Brown) deny their rights. Where is the so called "free will"??

xzaebos
xzaebos

The difference between gays and necro/pedophilia is that those behaviors are destructive while homosexuality is not. There are ZERO reasons for gays to want to identify them. If you believe it is hypocritical for them not to Identify with pedophiles than it is equally hypocritical for not to identify with them either. After all, there isn't very much difference between heterosexuality and homosexuality. Also, homosexuals who engage in sex with their gender most likely do so with legal consent and in a healthy way. A child and a corpse cannot consent.

Also, it isn't illegal to be a sadist, masochist, necrophiliac, or a pedophile. It's illegal to engage with sexual acts without legal and informed consent.

The reason for this ban is because it's a destructive and useless therapy that minors are forced into. If an adult wants to seek this therapy, fine, but there isn't any legitimate reason for a child to endure that.

Amabo Kcarab
Amabo Kcarab

 Homosexuality not destructive/  How do you think 95% of Aids is passed on?

BobSF_94117
BobSF_94117

 What an odd reversal of statistics for a native of Aynek to make.  The vast majority of HIV infection in your home country is heterosexual...

conet
conet

Heterosexual sex and/or passed on to a fetus from the mother. See: Africa.

xzaebos
xzaebos

Sex and shared needles. Homosexuality doesn't cause a magical cloud of HIV sprinkles to fall all around your house ya know.

Champ
Champ

 Who are you to decide what is destructive and what is not. What is not destructive to you may be destructive to someone else. That is why it is not good to measure everyone on the same scale. If someone is depressed, anxious and feeling suicidal due to their sexual orientation, that is destructive. It is called ego-dystonic homosexuality. Even though politically biased small orgs like APA do not recognize that, psychologists, WHO, and psychiatrists worldwide help individuals to overcome their unwanted sexual habits. This kind of stupid, shallow, funny laws are only seen in USA. The law is a quackery.

The political correctness has shadowed the truth.

Obsessive/compulsive homosexuality can be very destructive. Some gays have sex with many men as possible so that they get infected with HIV. Its called risk-behavior, which is high among gays.  Depression, anxiety, drug abuse, OCD, STD's are rampant among gays. You might say that its due to social stigma, but it is true in gay friendly nations like Netherlands.

It is understandable that a parent may want their children to undergo therapy. Robert Spitzer in one of the interviews said that he would want his son to take up therapy, if his son was a homosexual.

What is destructive with necrophilia? There is no need of a mutual consent. And not every pedophiles act upon their pedophiliac urges. Some express their affection/love in a non-destructive way. They also undergo reparative/conversion therapy and they are shown significant improvement.

Legality/consent cannot decide what is right and what is wrong.

Funny that people are legally allowed to undergo sex change/hormone therapy with its obvious, permanent, destructive side effects but youths are not allowed to take counseling to make their lives better.

I agree. Children should not be forced to undergo therapy. But this article has categorically denounced therapies attempting to help people with sexual conflicts.

ShehanR
ShehanR

I agree that homophobia is bad. But there is also a norm set by the nature that cannot be denied. It is a fact that penis fits vagina.

Netherlands is the most gay friendly nation in the world but Dutch gays also reports depression and suicide more than the general populace.

xzaebos
xzaebos

You do realize that I'm talking about teens who have that decision made for them. Also, you're trying to create a straw man. Homosexuality IS NOT destructive. Can it be destructive? Sure. Are all homosexuals living with crippling emotional disorders? No. So, I makes sense to say that homosexuality, by itself, is not destructive. If a homosexual teen is suffering from some sort of anxiety that's tied to his/her sexuality, wouldn't it be more healthy to deal with the source of that problem? Like, as you say, obessive homosexual behavior is destructive. The core of that problem isn't the homosexuality, but rather, the obsessing. Obsessive behavior about anything can cause distress, right? Why is it that when a man or woman has compulsive heterosexual sex that we DON'T focus on the heterosexual aspect?

Anyway, as adults, I believe everybody is (or should be) at liberty to do whatever they want with themselves, rather that's therapy or sex changes. Like I said before, I don't think laws should be thrown around for minors, but when a parent wants their child to undergo therapy because they are homosexual, I think it's a perfectly legitimate concern if the parent has the MINOR'S best interests in mind rather than a moral agenda to fulfill.

Prajesh Shrestha
Prajesh Shrestha

Well, first of all homosexuality is between two consenting adults. The word 'consenting' assumes an importance here because a corpse does not have the capacity to consent to sexual intercourse. And neither does a minor. Thus, paedophilia or necrophilia is not equivalent to homosexuality. 

Second of all, if someone is feeling depressed about their sexual orientation then it is usually because of the homophobia that is prevalent in society (of which the above comment is a prime example) and not because being a homosexual automatically makes you depressed. For example, a research from a Columbia university suggests that a supportive environment for LGBT youths can lead to a decrease in suicide rates (as opposed to non-supportive/oppressive environment). See; http://www.livescience.com/907...

So, if you wanted to reduce the rate of depression and suicide among LGBTQ youths, then you could start by being more accepting and open-minded. 

Mindy Storms
Mindy Storms

The problem with this logic is that whether pedophilia and necrophelia is something those people are born with, to practice either is illegal. It is illegal because it is not between consenting adults. Gays don't want to be associated with because of that. FOr the sadists and masochists...it depends on whether it is consenting adults. There is a huge difference between child rapists and gay people.

ShehanR
ShehanR

*So you say that homosexuals are born homosexual? However there is something common among heterosexuality, homosexuality, pedophilia, necrophlia, paraphilia - that nobody choose them. They are so strong that they feel that it is something innate. *

*

*

*Majority of the gays are not born gay as far as my psychological knowledge. But there is nothing wrong with that. But if you say that people are born gay, that would discriminate homosexuals who doesnt want to be gay but want to be "straight"/"Straightish".

*

**

ShehanR
ShehanR

So you say that homosexuals are born homosexual? However there is something common among heterosexuality, homosexuality, pedophilia, necrophlia, paraphilia - that nobody choose them. Their sexual feelings are so strong that they feel that it is something innate. 

Majority of the gays are not born gay as far as my psychological knowledge tells me. APA, psychologists and psychiatrists do not identify homosexuality as a disorder but they have never said that people are born with a sexual orientation. 

But if you say that people are born gay, that would discriminate homosexuals who doesn't want to be gay but want to be "straight"/"Straightish".

Regan DuCasse
Regan DuCasse

 You evidently don't know the difference between a paraphilia and a pathology, which are not exclusive to A sexual orientation which is a separate category. Basic gender attraction based orientation has MUTUAL attraction factors, where paraphilias and pathologies do not. These are disorders as evidenced by non reciprocal, obsessive behaviors that are destructive.

Sexual orientation is morally and socially neutral. It's a primitive and essentially prejudiced mind set that cannot and does not distinguish anti social behavior when it's inconvenient to. And gay children have had to live it down. The Brown vs. Brd of Ed. decision was influenced greatly by the Clark doll study that found that black children, living under segregated, inferior and socially hostile situations developed serious self esteem and other problems from it. This is also true of gay children, who are punished, and distrusted with hostility for no reason. This is causes similar and UNNECESSARY psychic pain.

  THAT is but a a few of the reasons why such therapy isn't necessary. No doctor can tell parents, fearful of cancer, their child has cancer when they don't, nor treat that child for something that's not threatening their lives, nor ability to function in life.

 A doctor that exploited the fears of the parents, would be called a quack and his treatments cruel.

So, no...no one should get away with treating gay children and their parents this way because gay people are unfairly treated  from defamation and misinformation.

xzaebos
xzaebos

"Gay" therapy is trying to fix a problem that doesn't exist. Homosexuality is, by no means, a disorder. So any attempt to 'treat' or counsel a homosexual teen is going to fail. It is fool hearty and ignorant. While we shouldn't be throwing laws around, I'm not going to be quick to want this law repealed.

Adriana E. White
Adriana E. White

@e8b94a09be73aaa715a4f310591a3166:disqus Although I personally view the "therapy" as repulsive, you are correct that it is a slippery slope best left untested. I get paid over $87 per hour working from home with 2 kids at home. I never thought I'd be able to do it but my best friend earns over 10k a month doing this and she convinced me to try. The potential with this is endless. Heres what I've been doing,..NDOQESB.tk

baxters
baxters

What needs to be banned all over the US is the torturous, expensive and worthless "therapy"  of injecting children with the same chemicals used to sterilize sex offenders due to the quack theory that it cures  autism. Also ban chelation therapy unless a competent doctor can actually prove that the patient even has elevated levels of lead or mercury in their blood. Society needs to move past torturing and starving (through ridiculously restricted unscientific diets) people with autism. Making it illegal for parents or pastors to counsel gay teens according to their religious beliefs should not be priority #1 compared to other agregious  "therapies".  What's next? Arresting everyone who isn't pro gay?

Michael Wellman
Michael Wellman

Given how many people equate anti-gay speech to "hate speech", I'd say that's not too far fetched.  Certainly not in the next 5 years or so, but 10 or 15 years down the line, who knows?

Amabo Kcarab
Amabo Kcarab

 Why do they call "Gay?"  They are anything but.