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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Plea to psychiatrists’ governing body to ditch gay cure therapies

Psychiatrists should stop offering homosexuals therapies that promise to change their sexual orientation, say secularists.

A decision by the American Psychological Association this week to discourage its 150,000 members from offering such “cures” has prompted the National Secular Society to ask the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) and the British Psychological Society (BPS) to issue guidance to their members not to provide or recommend these therapies and not to refer people who are confused or distressed about their sexuality to religious groups that promise “cures”.

In a letter to Professor Dinash Bhugra, the president of the RCP, and Sue Gardner, President of the BPS, Terry Sanderson, the president of the National Secular Society, wrote:

“The American Psychological Association concluded, after analysing 83 studies, that these therapies do not work and can, in some circumstances, induce depression and suicidal impulses.

In the light of this, we were alarmed to read in a report in the Guardian earlier this year that a significant number of psychiatrists and psychologists in Britain are still offering to help gay people change their sexual orientation.

With this in mind, we would like to suggest that the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the British Psychological Society consider issuing an advisory to their own members that they should not offer to provide these therapies nor suggest that people seek them out elsewhere – particularly from religious groups.

Enough research has now been done in this area to show that the therapies are not only ineffective, but often lead to further problems. Much of the pressure for the continuation of these therapies comes from evangelical religious sources, which have a theological objection to homosexuality. The American Psychological Association recommends that its members either encourage devout individuals who put their religion before their sexual needs to embrace celibacy, or to change their religious allegiance to another church that is more accepting.

The idea that they should be “converted” to heterosexuality is more of a theological demand than a scientific reality. Attempting to do this can, as the APA study suggests, create a sense of fear in individuals when it does not work.”

Mr Sanderson commented: “The idea of curing homosexuals comes these days mostly from evangelical Christian groups who are convinced that the Bible condemns homosexual practice. We feel this obsession with eliminating homosexuality from society is, in itself, unhealthy and has the potential to profoundly damage vulnerable individuals who are confused about their sexuality, or who cannot reconcile it with the religious demands being put on them.

“Telling people that they can be ‘cured’ of their sexual orientation suggests that it is an illness. To suggest that they can be “converted” to heterosexuality raises hopes that will eventually be dashed, possibly leading to depression and suicidal impulses. It is time that psychiatrists and psychologists ceased participating in this religious fantasy and encouraged gay people to adjust to their sexuality in other ways.”

Published Thu, 06 Aug 2009