Position Statements on Therapies to Change Sexual Orientation

Jim Burroway

January 22nd, 2011

American Academy of Pediatrics
Homosexuality and Adolescence: Committe on Adolescence (PDF: 908KB/6 pages): Confusion about sexual orientation is not unusual during adolescence. Counseling may be helpful for young people who are uncertain about their sexual orientation or for those who are uncertain about how to express their sexuality and might profit from an attempt at clarification through a counseling or psychotherapeutic initiative. Therapy directed specifically at changing sexual orientation is contraindicated, since it can provoke guilt and anxiety while having little or no potential for achieving changes in orientation.

American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy
Statement on Nonpathologizing Sexual Orientation: The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy takes the position that same sex orientation is not a mental disorder. Therefore, we do not believe that sexual orientation in and of itself requires treatment or intervention.

American Counseling Association
Exploring Ethical Issues Related to Conversion or Reparative Therapy: Clients may ask for a specific treatment from a counseling professional because they have heard about it from either their religious community or from popular culture. A counselor, however, only provides treatment that is scientifically indicated to be effective or has a theoretical framework supported by the profession. Otherwise, counselors inform clients that the treatment is “unproven” or “developing” and provide an explanation of the “potential risks and ethical considerations of using such techniques/procedures and take steps to protect clients from possible harm” (Standard C.6.e., “Scientific Bases for Treatment Modalities”).

Considering all the above deliberation, the ACA Ethics Committee strongly suggests that ethical professional counselors do not refer clients to someone who engages in conversion therapy or, if they do, to proceed cautiously only when they are certain that the referral counselor fully informs clients of the unproven nature of the treatment and the potential risks and takes steps to minimize harm to clients (also see Standard A.2.b., “Types of Information Needed”). This information also must be included in written informed consent material by those counselors who offer conversion therapy despite ACA’s position and the Ethics Committee’s statement in opposition to the treatment. To do otherwise violates the spirit and specifics of the ACA Code of Ethics.

American Medical Association
American Medical Association: Policy Statement H-160.991, Health Care Needs of the Homosexual Population: “Our AMA: … (c) opposes, the use of “reparative” or “conversion” therapy that is based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon the a priori assumption that the patient should change his/her homosexual orientation.”

American Psychiatric Association
Therapies Focused on Attempts to Change Sexual Orientation (Reparative or Conversion Therapies): The potential risks of reparative therapy are great, including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient.  Many patients who have undergone reparative therapy relate that they were inaccurately told that homosexuals are lonely, unhappy individuals who never achieve acceptance or satisfaction.  The possibility that the person might achieve happiness and satisfying interpersonal relationships as a gay man or lesbian is not presented, nor are alternative approaches to dealing the effects of societal stigmatization discussed.  The APA recognizes that in the course of ongoing psychiatric treatment there may be appropriate clinical indications for attempting to change sexual behaviors.

…Therefore, the American Psychiatric Association opposes any psychiatric treatment, such as reparative or conversion therapy which is based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon the a priori assumption that the patient should change his/her sexual homosexual orientation.

American Psychoanalytic Association
Position Statement on Reparative Therapy: The American Psychoanalytic Association affirms the following positions:

  • Same-gender sexual orientation cannot be assumed to represent a deficit in personality development or the expression of psychopathology.
  • As with any societal prejudice, anti-homosexual bias negatively affects mental health, contributing to an enduring sense of stigma and pervasive self-criticism in people of same-gender sexual orientation through the internalization of such prejudice.
  • As in all psychoanalytic treatments, the goal of analysis with homosexual patients is understanding. Psychoanalytic technique does not encompass purposeful efforts to “convert” or “repair” an individual’s sexual orientation. Such directed efforts are against fundamental principles of psychoanalytic treatment and often result in substantial psychological pain by reinforcing damaging internalized homophobic attitudes.

American Psychological Association
Resolution on Appropriate Affirmative Responses to Sexual Orientation Distress and Change Efforts: …THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, That the American Psychological Association affirms that same-sex sexual and romantic attractions, feelings, and behaviors are normal and positive variations of human sexuality regardless of sexual orientation identity;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That the American Psychological Association reaffirms its position that homosexuality per se is not a mental disorder and opposes portrayals of sexual minority youths and adults as mentally ill due to their sexual orientation;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That the American Psychological Association concludes that there is insufficient evidence to support the use of psychological interventions to change sexual orientation;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That the American Psychological Association encourages mental health professionals to avoid misrepresenting the efficacy of sexual orientation change efforts by promoting or promising change in sexual orientation when providing assistance to individuals distressed by their own or others’ sexual orientation;

American School Counselors Association
The Professional School Counselor and LGBTQ Youth (PDF: 76KB/2 pages): The professional school counselor works with all students through the stages of identity development and understands this development may be more difficult for LGBTQ youth. It is not the role of the professional school counselor to attempt to change a student’s sexual orientation/gender identity but instead to provide support to LGBTQ students to promote student achievement and personal well-being.

…Recognizing that sexual orientation is not an illness and does not require treatment, professional school counselors may provide individual student planning or responsive services to LGBTQ students to:

  • promote self-acceptance
  • deal with social acceptance
  • understand issues related to “coming out,” including issues that families may face when a student goes through this process
  • identify appropriate community resources

National Association of Social Workers
“Reparative” and “Conversion” Therapies for Lesbians and Gay Men: Reparative or conversion therapies claim, through the use of psychotherapy or other interventions, to eliminate a person’s sexual desire for a member of his or her own gender. The National Association of Social Workers’ National Committee on Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Issues (NCLGB) recognizes the emergence of these misleading therapies. Reparative and conversion therapies, sometimes called “transformational ministries,” have received wider attention against the backdrop of a growing conservative religious political climate, and through recent media campaigns supported by the Christian Coalition and the Family Research Council. By advancing their efforts through such propaganda, proponents of reparative and conversion therapies, such as the most commonly cited group NARTH, claim that their processes are supported by scientific data; however, such scientific support is replete with confounded research methodologies.

…People seek mental health services for many reasons. Accordingly, it is fair to assert that lesbians and gay men seek therapy for the same reasons that heterosexual people do. However, the increase in media campaigns, often coupled with coercive messages from family and community members, has created an environment in which lesbians and gay men often are pressured to seek reparative or conversion therapies, which cannot and will not change sexual orientation. [Emphasis in the original] Aligned with the American Psychological Association’s (1997) position, NCLGB believes that such treatment potentially can lead to severe emotional damage. Specifically, transformational ministries are fueled by stigmatization of lesbians and gay men, which in turn produces the social climate that pressures some people to seek change in sexual orientation. No data demonstrate that reparative or conversion therapies are effective, and in fact they may be harmful.


June 10th, 2011

NARTH is well known among those of us paying attention to various “change” organizations.

Less well known is the American Association of Christian Counselors, which frequently has Mat Staver as a speaker talking about legal issues in defending the “right” of therapists in doing “change” counseling. Their annual meeting is usually in Nashville in September/Oct.


I think you’ll find plenty of people advocating/doing/giving presentations related to ex-gay therapy there – even if it’s not the gender-based reparative model.

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