The UK Takes A Stand On Conversion Therapy

Today the UK Council for Psychotherapy is meeting with the Department of Health to launch an agreement on actions to end the practice of conversion therapy in the UK. You can find the UKCP announcement here.

While this is generally good news, there are two things to note about this. Firstly it applies only to conversion therapy intended to alter the sexuality of the patient. There is no mention of the sort of cruel treatment suffered by Leelah Alcorn and other trans children. Secondly, the practice of conversation therapy will not be banned, only officially discouraged. I’d like to address these two points.

On the question of the inclusion of trans therapies, it is important to understand that the wheels of government move very slowly at times. All of this was put in place long before Leelah’s story became headline news. Also the Memorandum of Understanding that UKCP produced was written in response to a government request that specifically limited the question to sexuality. Some therapists, in particular the good folks at Pink Therapy, definitely want to extend the discussion to gender issues.

There are multiple possible explanations for why gender isn’t yet included. It could be that the same TERF-driven policy makers who came up with the Spousal Veto are also responsible for keeping trans people out of this initiative. However, there is also the problem that being trans is still listed as a mental illness in the major international directories, whereas being gay is not. While trans people are still officially deemed to be “sick”, it will be very difficult to stop people from trying to “cure” us. The World Health Organization will be publishing a new edition of their directory this year and I have some hope that it will address that problem.

By the way, it was inclusion of being trans in these directories of mental illness that got trans people included in the driving ban in Russia. I see from the Moscow Times that the Russian Health Ministry has tried to clarify their position. It is pretty clear that they went by the international definitions of mental illness in deciding who to ban, and they now claim that trans people will be allowed to drive as long as nothing in their condition makes it unsafe for them to do so (which basically means giving a lot of leeway to the police and courts).

As to the question of banning these treatments, Dominic Davies of Pink Therapy has a very interesting blog post on the subject. He lists three reasons why he thinks an outright ban is not advisable.

Firstly he raises the specter of “religious discrimination”. I’m not hugely impressed by this. If a Christian group cited the story of Abraham and Isaac as justification for sacrificing children no one would think they had a leg to stand on. Driving your children to suicide through torture should be treated in the same way. However, I do accept that there would be a big PR problem if an outright ban were advocated, because the Daily Malice would be right there with the religious discrimination argument.

Secondly he raises the issue of definition. This is a fair point. All sorts of people offer “therapy”, and by no means all of them are accredited in any way. Actually enforcing a ban would be be very difficult. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we shouldn’t have one, it just means that it would not work as intended.

The best argument is the one that a ban would make offering any help difficult and dangerous. The blog post notes that 1 in 6 of the UK’s professional therapists admits to have either offered sexuality conversion therapy or referred a patient to someone else who practices it. This means that a lot of (presumably very scared) people are coming to therapists asking for treatment. Davies argues that if a ban is in place then practitioners are likely to refuse to help the patient at all because of the risk of being struck off for offering a banned treatment. If conversion therapy is merely officially discouraged then the patient can be treated, and hopefully can be helped to view their sexuality in a much more positive light.

Anyway, as I said above, this is definite progress in the right direction. Also the Pink Therapy folks promised me via Twitter that they would continue to fight for trans issues to be added to the Memorandum of Understanding. More power to them.

2 thoughts on “The UK Takes A Stand On Conversion Therapy

  1. If they did eventually include gender conversion therapy, I wonder if it would apply to the kind of services offered on the NHS dime by the Portman Clinic? I had the misfortune of being “treated” by one of the psychiatrists from the Portman who authored this letter. This was the only gender therapy that was offered to me on the NHS at the time. It was incredibly damaging for me, as much as any reparative therapy, I imagine.

    1. Much sympathy. I’m told that the NHS is getting a lot better, but that is no comfort to the people stuck on waiting lists, or to the people whose lives they have messed up in the past.

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