What is… conversion therapy

psychology word graphic in the shape of a brain

GDJ on Pixabay

In this series, I dig a little deeper into the meaning of psychological terms.

This week’s term: conversion therapy

I’ve forgotten the details, but recently I heard/read something that mentioned conversion therapy, so I decided to look a little closer at this pseudo-therapy that aims to force people’s sexuality to fit with heteronormative expectations.  It is sometimes referred to as trying to “pray the gay away”.  I expected to be rather disgusted by what I would find, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Early strategies used in conversation therapy were outlandish and often cruel.  According to Wikipedia, one endocrinologist transplanted testicles from straight men into gay men.  Electric shocks were sometimes applied to people’s genitals, and other strategies included ice-pick lobotomies (by a neurologist with no surgical training), chemical castration, masturbatory reconditioning, and administering nausea-induced drugs at the same time as showing homosexual images.  From 1968 to 19977, researchers Masters and Johnson conducted trials of sex therapy, with subjects engaging in sex acts in a lab in order to basically fuck the gay away.

Wikipedia describes a more recent approach called “reparative therapy”, developed by in the 1990’s by psychologists Elizabeth Moberly and Joseph Nicolosi, which views homosexuality as “a person’s rational and unconscious attempt to ‘self-repair’ feelings of inferiority”.  So-called “ex-gay ministries” have also arisen promoting the effectiveness of conversion therapy.

Wikipedia states that between 1939 and 1969, “conversion therapy received approval from most of the psychiatric establishment in the United States”.  It became increasingly challenged after the Stonewall Bar riot to protest a police raid in 1969.  Homosexuality was removed in 1973 from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), where it had been classified as a mental disorder since 1952.

In 1992, the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) was formed, and began publishing material claiming that conversion therapy was effective.  One of the cofounders was Joseph Nicolosi, who developed reparative therapy.  This group was not supported by any mainstream mental health or medical organizations, but some fundamentalist Christian and other religious groups have partnered with them.  A group of Christian right organizations funded a $600,000 advertising campaign in 1998 promoting conversion therapy.

Wikipedia provides the legal status of conversation therapy in various nations.  I was surprised to learn that it’s only banned in one Australian state, two Canadian provinces, and 14 American States; the UK government announced just last month that it would begin putting together a bill to ban it; it is officially endorsed by the Malaysian government; and in 2016 and 2017 Israel voted down a proposed ban on conversion therapy for minors.

It disturbs me the outlandish practices that have been a part of mainstream treatment over the last century when it comes to the treatment of any group that is considered aberrant, whether that’s mentally ill, LGBTQ, racial minorities, etc.  As much as I might be inclined to shuffle something like conversion therapy into the same crazy bin as L. Ron Hubbard’s made up religion/psychotherapy Scientology, it’s something that was once accepted by major psychological and medical organizations.  There are countries that still allow it, or even, in the case of Malaysia, embrace it.

What is wrong with humanity that people are so blind, so willfully judgmental?

 

You can read more on this topic in an excellent article on the Be Ur Own Light blog: Gay Conversion Therapy in America and Its Toll on Mental Health.

 

Sources:

 

You can find the rest of my What Is series here.

24 thoughts on “What is… conversion therapy

  1. Meg says:

    That sounds horrific. Honestly, I feel the same way about how it’s still legal in many places to spank kids, which seems barbaric to me in a similar way. I’m like, how can it still be considered okay and acceptable in so many places? 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  2. BeckiesMentalMess.wordpress.com says:

    Holy Shit! This is barbaric!
    Why can’t people just come to terms with other people living the lives that they want to live? As long as they are happy, let it be. This was so horrific to read, just the concept of the whole trying to change someone’s sexual preference is inconceivable to me. So horribly harsh. 😦

    Liked by 2 people

  3. seaofwordsx says:

    I also heard about this before and never knew exactly what it was. Thank you for explaning it so clearly. This is so horrible. Love is love and it isn’t an illness ❤️ I heard about the electro shocks and that’s just so sad.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. kersten says:

    There are many ways in which society tries to change misfits but these days it’s ok to be a misfit as long as you don’t damage the running of society around you. The problem is so called damage to society depends on who is doing the measuring. Thank goodness minority rights are beginning to be recognised at least in western democracies.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Janice says:

    There are no licensed medical health professionals doing this. Torture and coercion are already illegal. What you all want is no one to be able to pursue their own choices if they DON’T want to act on or identify with what you consider an immutable sexual orientation. Don’t conflate the two.

    Like

      • Janice says:

        What I’m saying is, if “conversion therapy” is coercion and torture, who ISN’T against it? VP Pence isn’t for that. People who pretend otherwise are being disingenous and obtuse.

        But people are including inside “conversion therapy” the right a person has to seek therapy THEY WANT to talk about unwanted sexual desires? Then why not? Why conflate those two VERY different topics?

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s