Feb 18, 2014

    Gay 'conversion therapy' ineffective and unethical

    I REFER to Ms Joanna Koh-Hoe's letter, "Sexuality FAQs - more balanced approach, please" (MyPaper, Feb 17).

    In it, Ms Koh-Hoe - who is the chief executive of Focus on the Family (Singapore), which is linked to its Christian-influenced parent organisation of the same name in the United States - suggested that one's sexual orientation can be changed.

    That is not a scientific claim. Rigorous studies have shown time and again that "reparative therapy" programmes that purport to "convert" lesbian and gay people have been found not only to be ineffective, but also to cause immeasurable harm since they became prominent in the 1970s.

    Such therapy has been shown to exacerbate anxiety and self-hatred among those treated for what is not a mental disorder, and has been linked to suicidal behaviour, depression, drug use and risky sexual behaviour.

    Despite this, advocates and practitioners, many of them affiliated with religious groups, continue to advertise messages like "change is possible".

    Recently, California and New Jersey became the first American states to ban conversion therapy on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth, while similar Bills have been introduced in Massachusetts, New York and Ohio.

    In California and New Jersey, a licensed therapist who tries to subject minors to such "treatment" can lose his licence and face other penalties.

    Last year, the British Psychological Society published a position statement opposing any psychological or counselling treatments or interventions that view same-sex sexual orientation as a diagnosable illness.

    The UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP), which represents training organisations and over 7,500 individual therapists in Britain, has campaigned for some years against "reparative" therapy and issued guidance to its members in 2011.

    It believes that it is an ethical offence for a UKCP member to offer or conduct psychotherapy or psychotherapeutic counselling with the express aim of altering "sexual orientation".

    Earlier this year, the Association of Christian Counsellors (ACC), Britain's leading body for Christian therapists, instructed its members to stop the practice of trying to turn gay patients straight using so-called "conversion therapy", "in the interests of public safety".

    The ACC explained that "such models have the potential to create harm and, therefore, we view them as incompatible within the ethos of counselling".

    The American Psychological Association says on its website in a section about reparative therapy: "The most important fact about these 'therapies' is that they are based on a view of homosexuality that has been rejected by all the major mental health professions."

    It added: "In the last four decades, 'reparative' therapists have not produced any rigorous scientific research to substantiate their claims of cure.

    "Until there is such research available, (the association) recommends that ethical practitioners refrain from attempts to change individuals' sexual orientation, keeping in mind the medical dictum to, first, do no harm."

    Parents who are concerned or distressed about their children's sexual orientation owe it to their children and themselves to carefully consider the recommendations of leading international psychological associations and not fall prey to organisations trying to further their religious ideology.