New York Move to Ban So-called “Conversion Therapy” Welcomed
Ban in place in four other states and D.C., but rest of nation should follow
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently announced a plan aimed at eliminating “conversion therapy,” a practice that purports to reverse same-sex attraction, but that has been widely discredited in the scientific community. We at the APA applaud Governor Cuomo for taking a public stance against an unethical and potentially harmful treatment based on the false idea that homosexuality is, per se, a mental disorder.
Part of Gov. Cuomo’s plan includes measures that prohibit insurers from covering the controversial treatment for minors. According to news accounts, when the plan is enacted, New York will join New Jersey, California, Illinois and Oregon as states with bans on conversion therapy for minors. The District of Columbia also has a ban on the practice. Even the White House came out in April 2015 in favor of banning conversion therapy, with the administration saying that the practice “is neither medically nor ethically appropriate and can cause substantial harm.”
In 1998, the APA issued a position statement opposing conversion therapy, on the basis that it assumes that homosexuality is a mental disorder. Many other professional organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Counseling Association, and the National Association of Social Workers have joined the APA in opposition to this treatment. The APA later reaffirmed our stance on this issue in 2000.
Conversion therapy has absolutely no scientific evidence to back up claims, but does come bundled with a real group of potential risks, including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior. In some cases, such as that of Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teen who committed suicide on Dec. 28, 2014 after being forced to undergo conversion therapy, those risks can manifest themselves as tragedies that are all too real.
Because of the abject lack of scientifically rigorous outcome studies measuring the efficacy of conversion or reparative therapy, and in light of the risks associated with it, APA asserts that ethical practitioners should not engage in this practice.
It is our firm stance that homosexuality is not a mental disorder, a position we have maintained since 1973, when homosexuality was rightly removed from the DSM. Furthermore, it is our position that, from a mental health perspective, there is no reason that sexual orientation needs to be changed. As a gay man, I’m proud of the stance that the APA took many years ago and continues to uphold today.
As psychiatrists, we owe it to our patients to oppose treatments that lack a scientific basis for their purported results, especially if they are potentially harmful. For this reason, any ban on conversion therapy, be it at the state or national level, will enjoy my support, and that of the APA.