WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 3, 2012
Over the weekend, California became the first state with a law banning so-called reparative therapy, a discredited intervention that claims it can turn homosexuals into heterosexuals. Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill into law, outlawing the practice of reparative therapies in youth younger than age 18. Brown said he hoped this law would relegate conversion therapy to “the dustbin of quackery,” noting that the practice has led to depression and suicide among young people distressed by the realization that they are attracted to people of the same gender. The law takes effect January 1, 2013.
APA has an official position condemning conversion therapies for being “at odds with the scientific position of APA, which has maintained since 1973 that homosexuality per se is not a mental disorder.” It notes as well that “The potential risks of ‘reparative therapy’ are great and include depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by [a person seeking this therapy].”
Jack Drescher, M.D., president of the Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry and a past chair of APA’s Committee on Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Issues, is concerned, however, that the law only applies to licensed therapists, and most people doing conversion therapies are unlicensed. In addition, Drescher said that the promised legal challenge claiming the law violates free-speech rights, if upheld, “would provide an opportunity for conversion therapy proponents to trumpet their victory and further market these harmful services.”
APA’s 1998 and 2000 position statements on reparative therapy are posted at www.psychiatry.org under “Position Statements.” For a comprehensive review of mental health issues affecting gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals see The LGBT Casebook, new from American Psychiatric Publishing. (Drescher is a co-editor of the book.)