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Topics In the News
Reparative Therapy in the News
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 05/19/12
Last updated on: 05/19/12
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On May 17, 2012, the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), forcefully condemned so-called "conversion therapy," which attempts to "cure" gay men and lesbians by converting them to heterosexuality. The organization declared that such therapies "lack medical justification and represent a serious threat to the health and well-being of affected people." The PAHO declaration is just one story about reparative therapy that has been in the news lately.

In the statement issued by PAHO, which may be read in its entirety here, PAHO Director Dr. Mirta Roses Periago said that "Since homosexuality is not a disorder or a disease, it does not require a cure. There is no medical indication for changing sexual orientation."

The document notes that while no rigorous scientific studies demonstrate any efficacy of efforts to change sexual orientation, there is evidence that efforts to change sexual orientation has been associated with feelings of guilt and shame, depression, anxiety, and even suicide.

Dr. Roses declares that "These supposed conversion therapies constitute a violation of the ethical principles of health care and violate human rights that are protected by international and regional agreements."

PAHO makes a series of recommendations for governments, academic institutions, professional associations, the media, and civil society, including the the denunciation of reparative therapies and the clinics offering them and the development of "mechanisms of civil vigilance to detect violations of the human rights of non-heterosexual persons and report them to the relevant authorities."

PAHO, which celebrates its 110th anniversary this year, is the oldest public health organization in the world. It works with its member countries to improve the health and the quality of life of the people of the Americas. It also serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization.

As John Becker has commented on Truth Wins Out's website, "With today's historic position statement, it's clear that the Pan American Health Organization agrees with Truth Wins Out: the time has come to officially ban the destructive, unethical, scientifically unsound practice of reparative therapy and end this scourge once and for all."

A bill working its way through the California legislature will not ban reparative therapy entirely, but will, if passed, impose severe limits on it.

The bill, sponsored by state senator Ted Lieu, would make it illegal for psychologists in the state of California to provide gay and lesbian conversion or reorientation therapy to persons under 18 years of age. The measure would also require adults seeking such treatment to sign informed-consent forms indicating that they comprehend the possible dangers inherent with this kind of therapy, including depression and suicide.

"This therapy can be dangerous," Lieu has said. He and supporters of the bill said conversion counseling is ineffective, can cause severe depression and guilt, and can even lead to suicide.

The California bill quotes a 2009 American Psychological Association report that defines conversion therapy as "unlikely to be successful and involves some risk of harm."

Peter Drake of San Francisco testified at the California Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the bill that he had undergone conversion therapy treatment for three years.

"I have a personal, painful experience with the harm that can be done by reparative therapy," Drake was quoted as saying by the San Francisco Chronicle. "My depression worsened during the treatment, and there was no change in my sexual orientation. . . . This is a form of medical malpractice, with practitioners who make claims about healing something that is not an illness."

The bill was voted out of the committee, but has yet to be debated on the Senate floor or in the Assembly.

Wayne Besen at Truth Wins Out, has a powerful editorial calling for the end of reparative therapy. Describing reparative therapy as "a destructive form of consumer fraud, where avaricious practitioners try to profit off their victims by instilling a deep sense of shame and guilt," he observes that "There is not one shard of evidence supporting such efforts, while there is a long trail of blood and tears from the human casualties who bought into the lie that they were abnormal and needed to be converted into heterosexuals."

The Southern Poverty Law Center has also begun to focus on the issue of reparative therapy. They have recently filed a complaint with two professional psychiatric associations urging them to investigate the unethical use of conversion therapy by a Portland psychiatrist, who allegedly subjected a 22-year-old University of Oregon student to conversion therapy.

Finally, Benedict Carey at the New York Times tells the story of Dr. Robert Spitzer's decision to apologize for his influential 2001 study that lent some credence to the efficacy of reparative therapy. Spitzer's apology is also discussed here.

In the video below, from July 2011, John Becker talks with David Pakman about his infiltration of Marcus Bachmann's clinic to expose the practice of reparative therapy.

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