The White House took a major step recently when President Obama called for an end to “conversion” or “reparative” therapies for LGBTQ youth. These types of therapies aim to “cure” homosexuals and those on the transgender spectrum, with the end goal of allowing LGBTQ individuals to discover their “true” heterosexual selves and typical gender expression.
It is a core ethical principle for practitioners to do no harm – and so-called conversion or "reparative" therapies are extremely harmful. Practicing these types of therapies with struggling clients is antithetical to the goals of the beneficent clinician. Instead of working towards improving the client's state of mind, conversion therapies often exacerbate their reasons for seeking treatment.
The psychiatric association goes on to state the potential risks of conversion therapy, including increased depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior. Conversion therapy is damaging for members of the LGBTQ community struggling to accept their identity. Rather than participating in an acceptance-based therapeutic approach that helps the client come to terms with and accept his or her identity, this approach essentially teaches the client that his or her gender identity or sexual orientation is inherently wrong, and the only way to lead a fulfilling life is to change who they are to fit in with societal norms.
While it is quite monumental that a denouncement of this psychologically damaging therapy came from the highest political figure in our country, it has really been a long time coming. The more visible acceptance becomes of the LGBTQ community, the more hope there is for young people struggling with accepting their place on the LGBTQ spectrum. The self-acceptance that blossoms with the visibility of increased acceptance from political leaders and allies across the country and the world cannot be overstated.
Andrea Segal is research coordinator at the Scattergood Program for Applied Ethics of Behavioral Health Care at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine.