British Study On “Aversion Therapy”: Why Does This Still Exist?

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New research shows that 4% of British health professionals would still attempt to change a client's sexual orientation. Natalie reacts (boo!).

A billboard advertises a church-related program promising to change sexual orientation

Photo: Daniel Greene (flickr)

There are still a lot of advocacy organizations in the United States that continue to endorse and promote therapy to "make people straight"

A report released last week by the University College, London and St George’s, University of London indicates that a small but significant minority of mental health professionals in Britain still offer “aversion therapy” (also called “conversion therapy” or “reparative therapy” when trying to change someone’s sexual orientation) treatments to gay, lesbian (and presumably bisexual) individuals so they can become heterosexual.

The research found that while only 4% of the 1400 mental health professionals polled would “attempt to change a client’s sexual orientation” if requested to do so, 1 in 6 (about 17%) reported assisting a client to “reduce” their gay or lesbian “feelings” through therapy.

The primary investigator of the study, Dr. Michael King, said that “there is very little evidence to show that attempting to treat a person’s homosexual feelings is effective, and in fact it can actually be harmful, so it is surprising that a significant minority of practitioners still offer this help to their clients.” Exactly!

Professional Associations on Aversion Therapy

The American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association, like many professional mental health organizations, have spoken out against this type of therapy, citing scientific evidence that treatments like these do not work and are, in fact, harmful to patients.

There are still a lot of advocacy organizations in the United States that ignore this information and continue to endorse and promote therapy to “make people straight” – has anyone seen But, I’m a Cheerleader ? The movie might be a bit silly but I think it has an important message about trying to change something, which I believe, is an innate quality of an individual.

It is true that sexuality can be fluid throughout our lifetime, but the thought of a therapist/counselor (a person we are supposed to trust with our deepest feelings and thoughts) using that position of power to try and change someone’s sexuality is disturbing to me, to say the least.

I’m glad the researchers at the University College, London are using this to educate the public about the ineffectiveness and harmfulness of this type of “therapy.” You can hear an interview with Dr. Michael King here about his thoughts on the study and aversion therapy.

Natalie Ingraham (M.P.H.)

is a recent graduate of Indiana University and is now pursuing a Ph.D. in Medical Sociology at University of California San Francisco.
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