Ban on therapies to ‘cure’ gay teens
California has become the first place to outlaw attempts to ‘cure’ homosexual young people. Now, British psychotherapists say the practice is bogus.
Some of the stories are extreme: electric shocks and even exorcisms are being used by Christian groups in America who claim they can turn gay teenagers straight. So-called therapists have been hired by families to isolate young people from their friends and pray over them. Their aim is to bring about sudden changes in how they experience their sexuality.
When Jerry Brown, Governor of California, heard about a spate of suicides and mental health problems among youngsters who had undergone such ‘cures’, he was convinced that this practice had to be stopped.
At the weekend, California became the first US state to ban gay ‘cures’ for anyone under the age of 18. The law is due to come into force at the end of this year and campaigners hope that other states will follow suit. But yesterday an appeal was lodged against the ban, backed by conservative family organisations: ‘the law takes away parents’ rights to provide psychological care for confused children’ said one.
Meanwhile in the UK, the professional body representing registered counsellors and psychotherapists decided on Tuesday to take their own stand. In Britain, so-called ‘conversion therapies’ tend to be much less dramatic. The methods they use are very similar to the courses of one-to-one therapy often successfully used to tackle problems like depression or anxiety.
But with ‘the talking cure’ increasingly misused to target teenagers’ sexual preferences, therapists declared that these controversial therapies have no medical value, and even ‘represent a severe threat to health and human rights.’
There is ‘no scientific, rational or ethical reason’ to treat gay or bisexual people any differently from heterosexuals’ say British psychotherapists. Californian legislators say they have relegated gay ‘cures’ to ‘the dustbin of quackery’. Misleading vulnerable young people and their families with Medieval methods and unscientific ‘cures’ is totally unacceptable in a modern society.
Hang on, others say: surely it’s not just the methods that are unacceptable here. Even if ‘gay cures’ were based on robust, mainstream science, they would still be an assault on these teenagers’ basic human rights. Every teenager should have the right to pursue whatever sexual preferences they feel happiest with, and nobody has a right to interfere with this freedom: not doctors, not schools, not even parents.
- Do you believe therapy can sometimes help people in difficulties? What about prayer?
- Would you define psychotherapy as a science?
- Look at the campaign guide about homophobic bullying in the links in Become An Expert and make a poster.
- Research the origins of counselling, psychotherapy and psychoanalysis and explain their differences in a short presentation. Decide whether they are scientific.
Some People Say...
“Any talking cure is a load of hot air.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- Surely this issue only interests the few people affected.
- Well, it’s true that most families will never encounter these problems. But campaigners want the conversion therapies banned everywhere – and not just to protect vulnerable gay teenagers from being damaged by undergoing them. If we allow the idea that homosexuality is a mental illness, they say, we are encouraging a homophobic culture. And for gay people, that could lead to bullying, social exclusion and perhaps even anti-gay violence.
- Okay, I don’t want to see that.
- Good. Because the point about defending the human rights of others is that some day you might need them to stand up for your own.
- Literally ‘fear of’ homosexuals and homosexuality, this word is used to describe an attitude towards gay people that can lead to verbal or physical attacks.
- Treatments designed to make money from ill or vulnerable people without having any basis in medical science.
- Talking cure
- Ever since Sigmund Freud developed the discipline of psychoanalysis, it and the psychological therapies that developed out of it are known as ‘talking cures.’ The therapist or analyst listens to someone talk about their life experiences to identify the source of current unhappiness.