A team of medical experts has called for a ban on the practice of conversion therapy, citing its harmful effects on the mental health of patients who have been subjected to it.
Writing in an Aug. 8 article in the New England Journal of Medicine, a group of doctors first begin with the history surrounding conversion therapy and the techniques that have historically been used as part of attempting to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
Those techniques include behavior-modification therapy, including the use of commercial sex workers, orgasmic reconditioning, and an emphasis on marriage to an opposite-sex partner. They also include forms of aversion therapy, including electroshock, chemical, and deprivation therapy.
The doctors note that while the prevalence of some of the more extreme forms of aversion therapy, such as electroshock, forced vomiting, or hormonal therapies, is scarce, practitioners of conversion therapy continue to tout some forms of behavior-modification therapy or “talk therapy” as “providing a pathway to cultural assimilation so they can live as cisgender heterosexuals.”
But the medical experts also note that the potential side-effects of the therapy have been well-documented, and can pose a range of health risks, including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal ideation, and, in more extreme cases, suicide attempts.
The article cites a study from the Family Acceptance Project, an initiative that works to prevent physical and mental health risks for LGBTQ youth.
The cross-sectional study, which surveyed 245 LGBTQ young adults, found that youth whose parents or caregivers had encouraged them to undergo conversion therapy had higher rates of depression, suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts — as well as lower educational attainment and lower income than those who weren’t subjected to conversion therapy.
The authors of the study also note that professional associations, like the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics have all denounced conversion therapy due to those potential harms.
Currently, 18 states have banned conversion therapy for minors. However, adults are able to engage in it if they so choose.
No states have officially classified conversion therapy as a form of consumer fraud, though there have been bills introduced in state legislatures and in Congress that would do so.
“As a result of the lack of regulation on these ‘therapies,’ many adults and children continue to be defrauded, harmed and traumatized in the U.S. every day,” said Dr. Carl Streed, Jr., the lead author of the report, according to HealthDay News.
Streed — who works as a primary care physician at Boston Medical Center and treats patients at its Center for Transgender Medicine & Surgery — and his co-authors say it’s important for doctors to be aware of conversion therapy in order to help patients who may be suffering emotionally or mentally as a result of the therapy.
It’s often up to the doctor to notice the signs, as many participants will conceal the fact that they’ve undergone the therapy.
“Although people of many ages and gender identities undergo conversion therapy, the most common participants are young men from conservative religious backgrounds with families that reject their LGBTQ-identified children,” the report’s authors write. “Many survivors of conversion therapy will need treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and post-religious trauma.”
The report’s authors also urge physicians to create a supportive and welcoming environment for LGBTQ patients, and educate themselves on LGBTQ-specific health issues. They also call on medical schools and training programs to address such issues to ensure future physicians are well-versed and can competently treat their patients. And they recommend that conversion therapy be banned outright, saying its detriments outweigh its alleged benefits.
“Put simply, these practices need to end,” Streed said in a medical center news release. “We need to work across sectors to focus on ensuring that all individuals of all ages receive appropriate, comprehensive care by trained medical professionals in a supportive environment.”