From the questionable methods to the long-lasting effects, controversy surrounds the practice of the so-called: “conversion therapy.” It is unclear whether this practice is actually effective, or if it is just a front for propagating hate in a time where attitudes towards members of the LGBT+ community are shifting dramatically towards acceptance. In order to understand the fight against the practice, it’s important to know exactly what it is and what effect it has on people.
There are many different kinds of conversion therapy, some more drastic than others. The most common and “gentle” method is talk therapy, which takes the form of traditional therapy as a conversation between the patient and the therapist. However, a harsher method of “therapy” is conditioning, which forces the patient to associate homosexual thoughts with negative feelings. In this method, participants are shown media portraying homosexual actions and are subsequently caused pain or displeasure through things like electric shocks or instructions to imagine the process of vomiting while viewing these images. One of the more extreme practices is a lobotomy, which is a surgical procedure where part of the brain is removed to “fix” a mental illness. Practicing this carries an extremely high risk, doesn’t “cure” homosexuality, and often leaves the patients with problems for life, leading to its practice being mostly eradicated today.
In regards to whether or not conversion therapy is actually effective, irrefutable results remain unclear. Many of the studies done on this practice are often biased, unscientific, and not conducted using proper research methods. According to Think Progress, one such “study” that claimed that conversion therapy is effective was simply a survey asking 125 men whether or not they thought the practice helped them. First of all, the sample size was too small to account for most people who go through some sort of sexual orientation change effort, or SOCE. Secondly, it is very likely that the participants in the “study” answered with what they thought the “researchers” wanted to hear, rather than what they believed they had gone through. This topic is one that involves a lot of bias, and while most people agree that conversion therapy is ineffective and causes more harm than good, it is very difficult to scientifically determine whether or not these efforts are actually effective at all.
While a few people may argue for it’s aid in wellness, conversion therapy actually causes a great amount of distress and trauma to the people who go through it. At its core, conversion therapy is based on intolerance and misunderstanding. Most people who go through it don’t do so willingly, and the therapy is often run by individuals who believe that homosexuality is something that can and has to be changed. Members of the LGBT community already suffer from higher rates of self-harm when compared to heterosexual young people, and being told that they have to change while being forced into an environment where their identity is clearly not accepted only adds to the detriment.
Conversion therapy is currently legal in 41 US states with laws protecting minors in 14 states and the District of Columbia. However, these laws don’t stop the practice from happening in these areas. Most of the time, these laws only apply to mental health professionals and people who provide this kind of therapy for money, and don’t apply to religious organizations that often go around the laws and regulations to continue to be major proponents of its use. While some countries have banned the therapy nationwide, others have only banned it in certain states or provinces, and many of these laws have certain exceptions.
As we see Canadians rally to ban the practice and Californian’s efforts to do the same fail, the fight to end this archaic practice remains on-going. Organizations like The Trevor Project are leading several efforts to make this pseudoscientific “therapy” illegal across all states, while many others are trying to forge the way for eradication efforts in their own countries. With new administrations and political tides changing, only time will tell whether or not the fight will be stalled or continue to move forward.
by Julissa Mederos