Should the U.S. Ban Conversion Therapy?

May 9, 2016 Becky Oberg

Should the U.S. ban conversion therapy? Recently, I received an email asking me to sign a petition demanding the Federal Trade Commission ban conversion therapy, also known as "reparative therapy," "ex-gay therapy," and "sexual orientation therapy." This therapy, which has been discredited by nearly every medical, psychiatric, and psychological organization, claims to be able to turn a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning (LGBTQ) person into a heterosexual (Cure the Gay: Gay Conversion Therapy – Real or Hoax?). When you read what this therapy involves--the Southern Poverty Law Center claims it uses "violent role play, reenactment of past abuses, and exercises involving nudity and intimate touching" 1 --it's hard to see why it's allowed. But should the U.S. ban conversion therapy?

What Conversion Therapy Is

Up until recently, by which I mean 1973, homosexuality was a psychiatric diagnosis treated by some extreme means. Institutionalization, castration, and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT, or electroshock) were all practiced. The National Center for Lesbian Rights reports:

According to a 2009 report of the American Psychological Association, the techniques therapists have used to try to change sexual orientation and gender identity include inducing nausea, vomiting, or paralysis while showing the patient homoerotic images; providing electric shocks; having the individual snap an elastic band around the wrist when aroused by same-sex erotic images or thoughts; using shame to create aversion to same-sex attractions; orgasmic reconditioning; and satiation therapy. Other techniques include trying to make patients’ behavior more stereotypically feminine or masculine, teaching heterosexual dating skills, using hypnosis to try to redirect desires and arousal, and other techniques—all based on the scientifically discredited premise that being LGBT is a defect or disorder.

Not only does conversion therapy not work, it has proven harmful to LGBTQ individuals. The Southern Poverty Law Center notes that people who have undergone conversion therapy report increased anxiety, increased depression, and, in some cases, thoughts of suicide.

Why Conversion Therapy Is Harmful

Very few things are more personal than one's sexuality. Rejecting one's sexuality and trying to change it can prove harmful, and conversion therapy magnifies the harm. The American Psychological Association reported in 2009 that conversion therapy resulted in many negative results, including:

. . . decreased self-esteem and authenticity to others; increased self-hatred and negative perceptions of homosexuality; confusion, depression, guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, shame, social withdrawal, and suicidality; anger at and a sense of betrayal by [conversion therapy] providers; an increase in substance abuse and high-risk sexual behaviors; a feeling of being dehumanized and untrue to self; a loss of faith; and a sense of having wasted time and resources.

The goal of therapy is to help with these issues, not cause them. Any treatment, medical, spiritual, or psychiatric, that causes harm should be suspect--but should the government get involved? I feel like I'm asking, "Should we ban the lobotomy?"

The damage done is significant, but is it really a good idea to get the government involved?

Ban Conversion Therapy for Minors, Caution for Adults

Banning conversion therapy, a therapy that attempts to convert gays into heterosexuals, doesn't work. It harms many. But should the US ban conversion therapy? I normally don't like getting the government involved in my personal life or medical decisions, which is why I'm hesitant to call for an outright ban (Should Conversion Therapy Be Banned?). A ban infringes upon freedom of speech and freedom of religion, and that leads to a slippery slope of what is and is not legal. However, minors, who cannot consent to conversion therapy, should not be forced to undergo it--and that's the law in California, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C.. But what about adults who consent to conversion therapy?

I fear that if we ban it outright, we'll simply force it underground, where it can't be regulated. I also fear that if we ban conversion therapy, survivors of it will be hesitant to seek help recovering from it in the same way a battered woman is hesitant to seek help from the police or a child suffering from abuse doesn't want to be subject to mandated reporting.

We can fight back against this harmful practice in many ways without banning it. We can demand insurance companies not cover it. We can educate minors about their sexuality in the hopes that they will be accepting of it as adults (Parents of Gay Children and the Issues They Face). We can publicize the damage conversion therapy does. We can have regulatory bodies refuse to license practitioners.

Ideas are like plants--the ones that don't adapt die. It's time to let the idea that homosexuality is an illness die, just as the idea that the earth is flat and the sun revolves around it died.


1 Southern Poverty Law Center

You can also find Becky Oberg on Google+, Facebook and Twitter and Linkedin.

APA Reference
Oberg, B. (2016, May 9). Should the U.S. Ban Conversion Therapy?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 27 from

Author: Becky Oberg

Leave a reply