"We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice,
we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself." Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison (1943-1945)

Is Therapy harmful?

At the Pink News Awards on 21st October 2015 Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said “we must stamp out” gay cure therapies in the UK.  This expression suggests that the Nasty Party has not gone away, but simply moved from one end of the spectrum to the other. 

Most rational people would accept that no therapy should be banned unless there is good evidence that it is harmful.  Yet in 2009 the American Psychological Association undertook a review of the literature and concluded that “recent [sexual orientation change efforts] research cannot provide conclusions regarding efficacy or safety”[1] (p.3)

Underlying Mrs Morgan’s intended ban is the assumption that one is ‘born gay’ and that this cannot be changed.

Royal College of Psychiatrists new Position Statement

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has responded to criticisms of Core Issues Trust by issuing a new Position Statement (April 2014).[2]  Although the College now affirms – in a radical revision of its previous position – that a person’s sexual orientation is shaped by ‘postnatal’ experiences and may change during life, it still opposes any therapeutic attempts to assist such change.  This is a kind of God of the Gaps argument.  The College used to suggest that change was impossible.  Now it has been forced to say that change may be possible, but it will not allow it to be permissible.  But this prohibition is not based on science, but on ideology.  A consequence of this is that many people who would like to try to reduce or eliminate the unwanted same-sex attraction that they experience, will be prevented from doing so because any therapist assisting them would be struck off by their professional body.

The College alleges that therapy to reduce unwanted same-sex attraction can be ‘deeply damaging’.  But no study has proved such a link, and Dr Nicholas Cummings, the former president of the American Psychological Association, submitted an affidavit before a New Jersey court affirming that he has seen ‘hundreds’ of people change their orientation away from homosexuality.[3]  And he is no right wing extremist: it was he who proposed the resolution that led to the APA removing homosexuality from its list of disorders,

The UKCP’s ban on therapy to try to reduce same-sex attraction

Already, in N Ireland, Dr Mike Davidson, has been struck off the register of the British Psychodrama Association (affiliated to the UK Council for Psychotherapy) and told that he may “re-apply to continue training should you consistently cease to promulgate your current opinions.”  In other words, his offence is not in what he has done (no client has made a complaint against him); rather, he has committed a thought crime – that he believes he may be able to help people reduce unwanted same-sex attractions.

The UKCP’s Ethical Principles and Codes of Professional Conduct document [4] says that for a therapist to agree to a client’s request for therapy for the reduction of same sex attraction “is not in the client’s best interests.”  This is an extraordinary statement.  How can such a universal response be given to all client requests, when the circumstances of the client are not known? 

Clearly such a position can legitimately be taken only if it is clear that such therapy is harmful in itself.  This is in fact what the UKCP claims:

'There is overwhelming evidence that undergoing such therapy is at considerable emotional and psychological cost.'

It is of the greatest importance that such claimed evidence should be made publicly available.  The UKCP’s then Chief Executive, Mr David Pink, declined to say where it might be found.  So the UKCP has declined to offer any evidence in support of its contention that therapy to reduce same-sex attractions is harmful in itself. 

Dr Di Hodgson, Chair of the UKCP’s Diversity, Equalities and Social Responsibility Committee has incautiously admitted: “I think there is very conflicting evidence ... So we have taken a view in a way which is regardless of the scientific findings. We still believe that it is unethical to seek to agree or to work towards changing someone’s sexual orientation through psychotherapy.”[5]   So the UKCP says first that there is ‘overwhelming evidence’; then declines to specify any evidence; then says that there is ‘conflicting evidence’; and then that they have taken a position that doesn’t require any evidence. This should concern every thinking person.  This position is anti-science. 

The best study available[6] found that, “The attempt to change sexual orientation did not appear to be harmful on average for these participants. The only statistically significant trends that emerged for the GSI (global) and PSDI (distress intensity) variables indicated improving psychological symptoms Time1 to Time6...  Our findings mitigate against any absolute claim that attempted change is likely to be harmful in and of itself.  ... In conclusion, the findings of this study appear to contradict the commonly expressed view that sexual orientation is not changeable and that the attempt to change is highly likely to result in harm for those who make such an attempt.”

Thus it is clear that no evidence has been offered by the professional mental health institutions to show that therapy to attempt to reduce unwanted same-sex attractions is harmful.

Mrs Morgan’s proposals to ban such therapy are not based on scientific evidence.


 

[1] https://www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/resources/therapeutic-response.pdf

[2] www.rcpsych.ac.uk/pdf/PS02_2014.pdf

[3] http://www.advocate.com/politics/2013/07/31/former-therapist-claims-ex-gay-therapy-worked-hundreds

[4] UKCP’s Ethical Principles and Codes of Professional Conduct:  Guidance on the Practice of  Psychological Therapies that Pathologise and/or Seek to Eliminate or Reduce Same Sex Attraction

[5]BBC Radio 4, Sunday 3 Feb 2013

[6] http://www.exgaystudy.org/