The Truth About Conversion Therapy

May 17th is the National Day Against Homophobia. On that day, Senate Project 1000 was presented in Puerto Rico. This tripartite project, written by Zoé Laboy (New Progressive Party), Miguel Pereira and Eduardo Bhatia (Popular Democratic Party), and Juan Dalmau (Independence Party) seeks to make it illegal for minors to be subjected to conversion therapy. This project has been backed up by evidence that states that “patients” can suffer potential psychological and emotional dangers from this baseless, pseudo-scientific practice. It has, however, received backlash from religious groups that claim this project will force professionals of conversion therapy to go against their scientific beliefs, and that it will limit the professional help that parents can find for their children.

This topic is not new, nor is the controversy that surrounds it. The existence of conversion therapy dates back to the 1920’s when homosexuality was considered a mental illness, and treatments meant to “cure” homosexuality were deemed appropriate. During this era, practices such as testicle transplants, ice-pick lobotomy, and behavior modification were normal.

As expected, all of these methods failed tremendously. Despite the fact that renowned physicians like Sigmund Freud were skeptical of the effectiveness of therapeutic conversion, it didn’t stop them from happening. It wasn’t until 1973 that homosexuality was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders by the American Psychiatric Association.

By the 1950’s, confrontational therapy (also known as attack therapy) and victim blaming was popularized in the US and were used as a therapeutic practice. These methods are still used in conversion therapy today. Survivors of conversion therapy often recount the torture they received, ranging from harmful talk-therapy that blamed patients, their relationships with their parents and focused on the shame they brought upon their religious communities, to the use of electroshock therapy. The accounts of the unethical treatment of patients in conversion therapy have been constant and this proves that the lack of morals within this practice is not an isolated event.

If conversion therapy is so unethical, why hasn’t it been denounced? That’s the thing-- it has been. Nearly every mainstream association focused on mental health has expressed their opposition to this practice, from the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy to the National Association of Social Workers. Even Valerie Jarrett, the senior adviser during Barack Obama’s presidency, stated in response to a petition supporting the banning of conversion therapy, "The overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrates that conversion therapy, especially when it is practiced on young people, is neither medically nor ethically appropriate and can cause substantial harm". Additionally, studies on this (such as the 2009 American Psychologists Association study) have come to the conclusion that conversion therapy is not effective in changing one’s sexual orientation, nor does it have any long-term effects on the patients--other than trauma

To put one last nail in the coffin, the author of one of the only studies that claimed conversion therapy was an effective practice, the late Dr. Robert Spitzer (who was also crucial in removing homosexuality from the Manual of Mental Disorders), apologized in 2012 for the flawed contents of his study. He admitted that he had no way to judge the credibility of the reports he obtained from the subjects he interviewed. This was a big loss for many religious groups that desperately clung onto Spitzer’s study as their one and only evidence of conversion therapy working.

It’s devastating to think that a practice that has an overwhelming amount of opposition for its unscientific methods, unethical treatment, and lack of results, is still used today. It’s even worse to think about how very few countries have banned this practice (only 14 out of 50 US states have banned this therapy), and how many are still blinded by the need to place more importance on their religious beliefs instead of the lives and mental health of the many members of the LGBTQ+ community that are subjected to this immoral practice. If the Senate Project 1000 passes, it will mean one more step forward in erasing this horrible practice from the island, and one step closer to cultivating a society that is more accepting of people regardless of their sexual orientation.


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