LONDON – Despite lack of evidence that gender-reorientation therapies are effective, one in six mental health professionals has attempted to “cure” homosexuality in their patients, according to a new survey of 1,400 therapists.
The results of the study, published in the journal BMC Psychiatry, indicate 17 percent of therapists have made attempts to reduce same-sex attraction in at least one of their patients. Another 4 percent of therapists said they would be willing to attempt to change a patient’s gender orientation if requested to do so.
Some of the therapists admitted their attempts to re-orient patients arose from their own moral or religious views that homosexuality is perverse and/or dangerous. Others said they attempted homosexuality “cures” in order to facilitate patients’ assimilation into a discriminatory society or to ease a patient’s unhappiness about his or her sexual orientation.
Most “cures” were attempted through counseling, using methods advocated by Christian groups in the U.S. Also in vogue are “boot camps” at which teenagers are encouraged to renounce homosexuality and embrace religion.
Lead researcher Michael King, a professor at University College London, said he is neither fond of the tactics nor certain any of them work.
“There is very little evidence to show that attempting to treat a person’s homosexual feelings is effective, and in fact it can actually be harmful,” he told the British newspaper Telegraph. “So, it is surprising that a significant minority of practitioners still offer this help to their clients.”
According to Derek Munn, director of public affairs for the gay and lesbian equality organization Stonewall, “So-called gay cure therapies are wholly discredited.”
Instead of reorientation therapy, King and his colleagues advocate helping patients learn to accept and value themselves as they are.
“The best approach is to help people adjust to their situation, to value them as people and show them that there is nothing whatever pathological about their sexual orientation,” he added. “Both mental health practitioners and society at large must help [homosexuals] to confront prejudice in themselves and in others.”
King and his research colleagues have established a website to raise awareness of the issues surrounding so-called “treatments” that claim to cure homosexuality.
The URL is TreatmentsHomosexuality.org.uk.