Conversion Practices (CP) refer to the various methods used to attempt to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. This form of practice has been widely condemned by mental health organizations as ineffective, harmful, and deceptive (1,2). Despite this, CP continues to be prevalent in many parts of the world, including Europe and North America. In this blog post, we will explore what CP is, the deceptive nature of CP as torture, the biopsychosocial health consequences of CP, and the benefits of banning CP.
What are Conversion Practices?
CP refers to any form of treatment or intervention aimed at changing, suppressing, or eliminating an individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. These practices are sometimes referred to as “conversion therapy,” “reparative therapy,” or “sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts” (SOGICE). The United Nations has repeatedly condemned CP as a form of torture and called for a global ban on all forms of CP.
CP can take many forms, including so called talk therapy, aversion therapy, and even exorcisms. The most common form of CP relates to so called ‘talking therapy’ and faith-based practices. Talk therapy involves attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity through counselling and other psychological interventions (7). Aversion therapy involves exposing individuals to unpleasant stimuli while showing them images or thoughts related to their sexual orientation or gender identity (8). Exorcisms involve the belief that the person’s sexual orientation or gender identity is caused by possession by evil spirits that need to be exorcised (10). There is no evidence to support CP effectiveness in anyway and it only highlights the extreme harm it causes to the individual.
Prevalence of Conversion Practices in Europe and North America
According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association (ILGA), CP is still practiced in 69 countries around the world (3). In Europe, a recent survey by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) found that 6% of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people had undergone some form of CP (4). In North America, a survey by the Williams Institute found that approximately 20,000 LGBT youth in the United States undergo conversion therapy each year (5). Research suggests that CP is still prevalent in the United Kingdom, with an estimated 5,000 people being subjected to these practices every year. LGBTQ individuals of all ages, genders, sexual orientations, and ethnicities are at risk of experiencing these practices. The evidence indicates that younger people (under 19), men, and people from religious communities are particularly vulnerable to CP.
Deceptive Nature of Conversion Practices
CP is always duplicitously, immorally, and audaciously promoted as a form of so-called help or ‘therapy/counselling ‘aimed at helping individuals change their sexual orientation or gender identity. However, CP is not based on any scientific evidence and is performed by unscrupulous practitioners who are not bound by any ethical compass who inflict torment and trauma on vulnerable fellow human beings because they do not meet their distorted beliefs of what is ‘normal’ (1,2). To be explicit, CP is defined as torture, as it always involves physical, emotional, and psychological abuse that causes severe and long-lasting harm to those who undergo it (6). Due to the sole harmful and coercive nature of CP being a torture instrument, there is no valid process in which a person can provide informed consent.
Biopsychosocial Health Consequences of Conversion Practices
The biopsychosocial health consequences of CP can be severe and long-lasting. Individuals who undergo CP are at increased risk of depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts (1,11). CP can also lead to a loss of self-esteem, social isolation, and a sense of shame and guilt (12). A systematic review of 27 studies found that the prevalence of depression ranged from 33%-66% and 11%-31% for PTSD among those who had undergone CP (17). Evidence from Europe indicated that 20%-40% of LGBT subjected to CP had attempted suicide (18,19). Furthermore, certain forms of CP can cause physical harm, including nausea, headaches, and other physical symptoms, as well as increased risk of sexually transmitted infections (13). Research has shown that the negative effects of CP can extend beyond the individual undergoing the ‘treatment’ to their families and communities. A study conducted by the National Centre for Lesbian Rights found that the use of CP on minors can lead to family conflict and decreased family acceptance, which can have negative effects on the mental health and wellbeing of the child and their family (14).
Benefits of Banning Conversion Practices
If a society supposedly values equal rights, there are no justifications in which any group that opts to voluntary adopt a belief system in which they see it ‘just’ to enforce torture onto another group with intrinsic protected characteristics. Lord Byron was quoted as saying: He who is only just is cruel. Who on earth could live were all judged justly?”. Banning CP can have several benefits for individuals and society. Firstly, it can help to protect the human rights of LGBT individuals by ensuring that they are not subjected to harmful and ineffective torture practices (15). Secondly, it can help to reduce the stigma and discrimination that LGBT individuals face by sending a clear message that such practices are unacceptable within a civilised plurality society (16). Finally, by banning these practices, we can help prevent further severe psychological harm to vulnerable LGBT individuals and promote more inclusive mental health and wellbeing outcomes. As Karl Popper (1945) coined within the paradox of tolerance: ‘a tolerant society should not tolerate intolerance, as allowing intolerance to flourish can ultimately lead to the destruction of the tolerant society itself’.
CP have been widely recognized as a form of torture that has severe and long-lasting physical, psychological, and social impacts on LGBTQ individuals. A ban on CP can not only prevent further harm but also promote mental health and wellbeing for LGBTQ individuals. It is crucial for governments, healthcare professionals, and society to take action to ban these practices and provide support and resources for those who have been affected by them. Only then can we move towards a more inclusive society where everyone can feel safe, valued, and respected, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
- American Psychological Association. (2015). Resolution on the Appropriate Affirmative Responses to Sexual Orientation Distress and Change Efforts.
- World Health Organization. (2012). Sexual orientation and gender identity: Key health risks for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.
- International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association. (2021). State-sponsored homophobia report.
- European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. (2020). EU LGBTI survey.
- The Williams Institute. (2018). Conversion Therapy and LGBT Youth.
- Human Rights Campaign. (2018). The Lies and Dangers of “Conversion Therapy”.
- Ryan, C., Toomey, R. B., Diaz, R. M., & Sanchez, J. (2018). Parent-Initiated Sexual Orientation Change Efforts with LGBT Adolescents: Implications for Young Adult Mental Health and Adjustment. Journal of homosexuality, 65(6), 770-783.
- Haldeman, D. (1991). Sexual orientation conversion therapy for gay men and lesbians: A scientific examination. In Homosexuality: Research implications for public policy (pp. 149-160). Sage Publications, Inc.
- Shidlo, A., & Schroeder, M. (2002). Changing sexual orientation: A consumers’ report. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 33(3), 249-259.
- Manning, R., & Radoilska, L. (2018). Ethics of conversion therapy for gender identity disorder: A critical reflection. Journal of medical ethics, 44(4), 261-267.
- National Center for Lesbian Rights. (2018). Conversion Therapy and LGBT Youth: Understanding the Impact on Mental Health.
- Yarhouse, M. A., & Burkett, L. A. (2002). Is it possible to be a gay Christian? Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 21(2), 141-152.
- APA Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation. (2009). Report of the Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation.
- Ryan, C., Russell, S. T., Huebner, D., Diaz, R., & Sanchez, J. (2010). Family acceptance in adolescence and the health of LGBT young adults. Journal of child and adolescent psychiatric nursing, 23(4), 205-213.
- International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims. (2015). The Istanbul Protocol: International Standards for the Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
- The Trevor Project. (2021). The Case Against Conversion Therapy.
- Lieu, N., Ha, H., Scherrer, K., Smith, J., & Ferlatte, O. (2021). A systematic review of conversion therapy experiences among LGBTQ2SIA+ people. Journal of Homosexuality, 1-23. doi: 10.1080/00918369.2021.1891379
- International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) Europe. (2020). Out of the Silence: Addressing the abuse and conversion of LGBTQ in Europe.
- Ozanne Foundation. (2018). The Ozanne Foundation Survey on Spiritual Abuse: Report.