Updated: Oct 18, 2021
“Reparative therapy,” commonly known as “conversion therapy,” is a practice that is targeted towards LGBTQ+ youth and is used to change their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. In this practice, LGBTQ+ individuals are isolated from their friends and family. They’re sent to camps and conferences where they’re taught to deny their unorthodox gender identities and sexual orientations, which are labelled as unnatural thoughts or sinful ideas. Conversion Therapy can be traced back to as early as 1899, when German psychiatrist Albert von Schrenck-Notzing used hypnosis to manipulate the man’s sexual impulses, diverting them from his interest in men to a lasting desire for women.
According to a 2018 study from the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, more than 698,000 people have undergone conversion therapy in the United States and thousands more will likely face the discredited therapy in the future. As of now, only 20 out of the 50 states in the U.S. have banned conversion therapy.
The controversy about conversion therapy is commonly difficult for people to understand. Not supprisingly, individuals who experience conversion therapy later develop increased mental health issues, self-hatred, undergo negative lifestyle changes, and may not achieve its intended purpose by the end of the therapy.
Conversion Therapy Causes Increase In Mental Health Issues
The Ozanne Foundation, which campaigns for LGBTQ+ equality conducted a 2018 survey on faith and sexuality. The survey garnered responses from 281 individuals, some of whom were forced to experience conversion therapy or were forced to engage “in sexual activity with someone of the opposite gender.” When the respondents were asked if they had experienced mental health issues, 68.7% said they encountered suicidal thoughts, 40.2% said that they have engaged in self-harm, and 32.4% said that they have attempted suicide.
Conversion therapy not only reinforces gender stereotypes and perpetuates the stigma surrounding homosexuality, but can also harm the people it claims to help. It has been proven through studies, like the one done by the Ozanna Foundation, that adolescents and young adults who undergo conversion therapy ultimately yield higher rates of depression and other forms of mental illnesses. This is mainly due to the rigorous procedures that the LGBTQ+ person has to suffer through at the conversion center.
The centers where the harmful procedures are performed mainly use forms of physical and psychological torture in order to influence a persons sexuality or gender identity. The most common and modern forms of psychological torture are courses of “therapy” and “counseling.” Although these methods may seem harmless, they are more than harmful in reality. The dark methods used in therapy and counseling shame LGBTQ+ people into submission, often encourage them to degrade themselves, and cause them to believe that their sexual identity or sexual expression is something to be ashamed of. Participants of these centers are often taught that everyone is born heterosexual, forced to re-enact traumatic experiences, and are punished for their ‘deviant’ behavior.
It is evident that conversion methods can take a massive toll on the participant’s mental state. When LGBTQ+ individuals are convinced that their feelings and actions are morally wrong, they build up layers upon layers of guilt and shame, which may take years to completely ameliorate. The guilt and shame that conversion therapy instills in them influences a mental state which acts as a gateway for severe mental health issues like depression and anxiety.
LGBTQ+ Individuals Experience Change In Lifestyle And Close Relationships After Therapy
A study from the Family Acceptance Project (FAP) has found that LGBTQ+ people who experience sexual orientation change efforts during adolescence reported that their parents, therapists, and religious leaders pushed them to this change.
Participants who are forced into conversion therapy by their parents or loved ones are more likely to step away from their relationships with them. After conversion therapy, participants assume that they aren’t wanted, or aren’t respected, by their loved ones. Beyond studies focused solely on reparative therapy, broader research clearly demonstrates the significant harm that societal prejudice and family rejection has on LGBTQ+ people, particularly youth.
Religion is a huge reason why participants forced to undergo conversion therapy. Religious white males are the most likely demographic to seek out conversion therapy, giving rise to the popularity of the phrase: “pray the gay away.” Garrard Conley, who was born into a Baptist family, spoke about his experiences with his family regarding conversion therapy. Conley and his father drifted apart after his father threatened to throw him out of the house if he pursued his sexuality. Ultimately, Conley was sent to a conversion center, which further ruined his relationship with his father. Parents who force their children to participate in conversion methods are doing more harm than good. They sever the relationship that they once had with their children.
Conversion Treatments Are Overall Ineffective
The World Psychiatric Association (WPA) — the largest psychiatric organization in the world with over 200,000 members from 118 countries — said in a statement that sexual orientation is not a disorder that can be treated. This is due to the fact that it’s an innate characteristic influenced by biological and environmental factors, and thus, immutable to prayer.
While therapy must be evidence-based and empirically verified to be a best practice, conversion therapy is neither. In conversion centers, therapists and workers often make patients feel guilty and ashamed about who they are, and while they think shame and guilt are pathways to change, conversion methods often yield a destructive path. Practices that are not guided by the client, have outcomes that are imposed upon the client, and don’t work, are classified as torture, not therapy.
Dr. Robert Spitzer, whose research had previously been misused to support conversion therapy, has retracted his original claims and has stated that data regarding conversion therapy had been misinterpreted and that there is no conclusive evidence for its effectiveness.
A study published in the Journal of Medical Regulation in 2016, concluded “Reviews of the peer-reviewed literature from multiple professional organizations…have found no evidence that conversion therapy treatments result in changes in sexual orientation.” Given the ineffectiveness of such therapies — and their high potential for harm — these treatments should not be used on children, who cannot consent to their use.
Despite these arguments, the controversy behind keeping conversion therapy around the world is continuing to grow every day. Conversion therapy will eventually do more harm than good to the patient that is going through the procedure, and will set the patient up for a life of uncertainty and fear. While multiple governments around the world, both state and national, deal with the controversy around conversion therapy, only a limited amount of governments have actually passed legislation that ban it in their province.
Through Teen Lenses: If you think it should be, How important do you think it is for conversion therapy to banned around world and why?
“I think it is very important for conversion therapy to be banned because the country has been a lot more proactive recently in terms of human rights and I think this is another issue where certain identities are not accepted in society. The continuation of this type of therapy just supports the stereotypes around transgender people. Furthermore it is never right to forcefully convert someone’s identity just because it does not align with certain standards. 2020 may not be the best year but there is a lot to learn from it and I strongly believe there will be a brighter future, one where conversion therapy is banned.” Zara Chavoshi, 17, Senior at Thomas S. Wootton High School, Rockville, MD
“It’s extremely important for conversion therapy to be banned around the world because it puts many kids in unsafe and manipulative environments. It is cruel to force your beliefs onto others, and conversion therapy is the direct result of that.” Benjamin Li, 16, Junior at Thomas S. Wootton High School, Rockville, MD
“It is very important for conversion therapy to banned worldwide because it’s simply inhumane. Those who have gone through it have described it as torture, and it is traumatic for so many people. Along with this, there is no scientific proof that conversion therapy works, in fact most psychiatrists denounce it. If there’s no evidence of real results from it, and there’s no reason to do it in the first place, it obviously shouldn’t be allowed any longer. “ Samantha Kimbis, 16, Junior at Thomas S. Wootton High School, Rockville, MD