The unusual practice of attempting to “convert” homosexuals to heterosexuality has been officially deemed unethical by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). The group sent letters to its 30,000 members condemning the practice, citing the World Health Organisation’s stance that these therapies can severely harm an individual’s mental and physical health. This decision follows the case of Lesley Pilkington, a Christian therapist who offered conversion therapy to an undercover journalist, and the governor of California Jerry Brown’s decision to ban the practices in his state. Numerous human rights organisations have opposed the practice, and the BACP’s updated guidelines bring the dangers of conversion therapy to light.
Conversion therapy, also known as reparative therapy, is essentially a “pray the gay away” treatment, in which ordinarily Christian organisations attempt to “correct” an individual’s sexuality through counselling or religious practices. The American Psychological Association’s 2007 review of the research into these and similar therapies found that there were very few methodologically sound studies on the topic, but that these all provided evidence that efforts to change sexual orientation are ineffective. There is insufficient evidence to say that it’s directly harmful, but there is a wide store of research which states that prejudice from within society causes harm to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals. For example, those who are rejected by their parents or caregivers are eight times more likely to attempt suicide.
Many people mistakenly thought that conversion therapy was a purely American affair, but the case of Lesley Pilkington brought the issue to the forefront in the UK. She offered the controversial treatment to an undercover journalist working for the Independent. A spokesman for the BACP stated that they’d assumed that the existing guidelines regarding equality and only working in the client’s best interest would have ruled out the therapy. Pilkington was removed from their member’s list, and her appeal was declined in May this year.
This case taught the BACP to tighten up their guidelines and take the threat of conversion therapy more seriously. A survey conducted in 2009 showed that 200 out of 1,300 therapists had tried to change a patient’s sexuality at least once, and 55 of them were still offering the service. Pilkington’s case surfaced in 2010, but the organisation was unable to change their guidelines until the appeal had been resolved. The UK Council for Psychotherapy updated its guidelines just after the case emerged, and wholly support the BACP’s recent decision.
Almost every counsellor agrees that conversion therapy is extremely unethical and potentially damaging. The main issue is that a therapist who tries to alter somebody’s sexuality is implicitly assuming that their homosexual desires constitute a mental illness, and should be corrected. The BACP state that “There is no scientific, rational or ethical reason to treat people who identify within a range of human sexualities any differently from those who identify solely as heterosexual.”
Nobody should assume that his or her sexuality needs to be changed or altered in any way, but that doesn’t mean that LGBT individuals never need counselling. The ignorant, pig-headed attitude embodied by any therapist who offers conversion therapy can actually cause a variety of issues. If you or your loved one needs support because of homophobia, trouble with coming out, or any other LGBT issue, we are here to help you. We’ll give you an overview of your options for free, and can conduct assessments to determine the level of care you need. Stop by our Luton offices or get in touch with us today and see how we can help you!