Conversion therapy: a delicate sort of gay bashing

Peter Jackson
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Imagine you’re diagnosed with schizophrenia. Your life is consumed with feelings of fear and paranoia, brought on by imaginary voices. You are often paralyzed with confusion, almost comatose with depression.

Now, imagine you see your psychiatrist one day, and the first thing he says is: “You know, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean people aren’t talking about you.”

Could anyone sink to such depths of cruelty?

That psychiatrist would lose his licence. He’d almost surely face legal action, as well.

And yet, an alarming number of so-called therapists are engaging in similarly despicable behaviour.

These are the conversion therapists.

They purport to be able to convert homosexuals into heterosexuals. They do this through counselling sessions in which, almost invariably, Christian prayer plays a central role.

This is the schizophrenic scenario in reverse. It’s taking someone with an inherent sexual orientation and convincing them that they have a mental condition, that they are somehow psychologically “wounded.”

It is preposterous.

It is gravely irresponsible.

And it has been formally condemned by credible psychological associations.

Homosexuality has not been part of the psychology lexicon since 1973, when it was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

In 1982, a comprehensive review of studies conducted up to that time found no difference in psychological scores between homosexuals and heterosexuals.

“Homosexuality in and of itself is unrelated to psychological disturbance or maladjustment,” wrote author John Gonsiorek. “Homosexuals as a group are not more psychologically disturbed on account of their homosexuality.”

The issue was put to bed long ago.

Waking up again

Yet, as with the recent rise of the Creationist movement, a new school of fundamentalists has cropped up, determined to punch its square faith-based pegs into round empirical holes (no sexual connotation intended).

In Britain last year, a two-thirds majority of British Medical Association members backed a call for the Royal College of Psychiatrists and other mental health standards bodies to reject conversion treatments and ban their use in their codes of practice.

The vote followed an undercover report by gay journalist Patrick Strudwick, who posed as a client for a couple of conversion therapists. His findings were published in The Guardian in February 2010.

“There’s a darkness that’s very real that keeps you as its dog, but of course our God is more powerful than that,” one therapist told Strudwick during a session. (Does that sound like the kind of thing a qualified specialist would say?)

Typically, conversion therapists put the cart before the horse. “There’s a confusion, there’s an anxiety, there’s a lot of pain,” said same therapist, as if the anxiety caused the sexual orientation, and not the other way around.

In the same way that investigators unwittingly planted repressed memories in children during the 1980s and ’90s, conversion therapists plumb the depths of a client’s childhood until they conjure up some contrived explanation for the sexual “deviation.”

The worst thing about this sham is the serious damage it does, not only to clients, but to those who hear about such practices through the media.

The message is that homosexuality is bad, it’s wrong, it’s an abomination to God. That it can be “fixed.”

Is that the sort of message a fragile teen needs to hear when he’s struggling with the prospect of coming out to his friends and parents?

 If anyone is being “wounded,” it is the poor souls who end up caught in the claws of these misguided zealots.

Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s

commentary editor. Email

Organizations: Royal College of Psychiatrists, British Medical Association

Geographic location: Britain

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Recent comments

  • David
    July 28, 2011 - 11:08

    This is just 'bashing''s totally unfair.

  • Henrietta
    July 27, 2011 - 11:13

    I once heard a priest say that, according to the New Testament, Jesus never even once mentioned sex. It's astounding to me that some "Christians" are seemingly so obsessed with everyone's sexuality. You'd think Jesus never spoke of anything but.

  • Politically Incorrect
    July 27, 2011 - 08:46

    "[...] two-thirds majority of British Medical Association members backed a call for the Royal College of Psychiatrists and other mental health standards bodies to reject conversion treatments and ban their use in their codes of practice." Two thirds!!! Seriously? So one third of BMA members accept this kind of "therapy?" I just hope they happend to be out for a pint when the vote was taken.