Pushing children off the ledge, Conversion therapy

By Chuck Leach, former pastor and counselor

Photo by Adam Creech

We must stop folks from pushing children off the ledge. Conversion therapy (sometimes called “Reparative Therapy”) does exactly that; it pushes children off the ledge by unraveling the underpinnings of self-understanding, acceptance, and personhood.

Conversion therapy was concocted by well-intended but misguided people to extinguish a person’s attraction to the same sex, any acknowledgement of discomfort with the gender to which they were born, or any expression of being that is non-traditional by the conversionist’s standards.

Even though there was no empirical evidence of disease or disorder, psychiatrists Von Schrenk-Notzing, Sigmund Freud, Sandor Rado and others paved the way for the medical world to define a whole set of behaviors as “deviant” on the basis of lying outside the statistical majority. In some parts of the world, being blue-eyed is clearly deviant, yet still does not deserve to be a punishable offense.

Conversion therapy has driven precious young people to suicide and robbed countless others of any joy in life, and even the will to live. “Reparative” therapy, by its very name denotes a broken, flawed person that needs to be fixed. That supposed need to fix has no scientific basis whatsoever. The “fixing” includes shaming, dissuasion and disparagement, social isolation, aversive “treatments” such as electro-shock and other means of associating “unacceptable” thoughts and impulses with pain.

Being a Christian is a choice, but it would be unconscionable to use reparative tactics on a person who chooses to be Christian. It is reprehensible to use reparative tactics on LGBTQ+ folks who are struggling to express who they experience themselves to be.

No matter how much you were pressured or tortured, you probably would not be capable of changing your skin color, gender identity, your religion or whom you love. Neither should young people who are struggling to bring into healthy reality that they experience themselves to be.

I have spent six decades working with people, first as a pastor then as a counselor. I have walked with them as they have struggled with life and death issues as they map out the course of their lives. In formative years, youngsters have to learn how to negotiate the tricky waters of personality and sexuality. These tasks have become infinitely more complex as information and communication have expanded exponentially.

Developing character and finding one’s voice are developmental achievements crucial to becoming effective adults. Reparative therapy methodically and intentionally undercuts those processes by disabling the very mechanisms by which a person establishes their identity and selfhood.

Rarely do we choose whom we feel attraction to. We certainly have choice about what we do with our attraction, but it cannot be punished or reasoned away. Punishment and shame push our feelings and desires underground, but feelings do not go away, by choice or will power.

A person who has never experienced conflict with the role they were given with may never understand the depth of pain of feeling like you are a visitor in your own skin, born into the wrong body.

Conversion Therapy is a misleading name: some call it therapy, but all the reputable therapeutic bodies in America and many other parts of the world have determined these practices to be unfounded and wrong. Countless victims who have been through such experiences affirm the damage they sustained. Only a tiny fraction claims they are successfully “cured.” Of those who do claim success, almost none sustain that success over time.

Some very devout people are convinced that God accepts only people who are accepting of the gender assigned to them at birth [that is, cis-gender individuals], and in their misdirected zeal create hell in the here and now for their targets. They appear blithely unconcerned that the LGBTQ+ population already have a much higher rate of depression and suicide, even without the ridicule and torture of pseudo-therapies.

Religious groups have been at the forefront of the offenders, speaking out of both sides of their mouth, on the one hand saying God loves everybody, but then at the door of the church saying, “Oh, but not you” to anyone not fitting closely within the narrowly defined profile of heterosexual cis-gender folks.

Well-educated ethical therapists have long since given up conversion therapy and designated it as a harmful practice. Robert Spitzer, M.D., was leading developer of the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM (Diagnostic Statistical Manual—the definitive work for naming and classifying mental disorders in the medical world).

In 2012 Dr. Spitzer published his apology for having supported reparative therapy in an earlier insufficiently informed paper. We must bring the laws up to date to make sure no licensed therapist in Kentucky ever again uses the damaging practice of conversion therapy. As understanding and awareness are growing all around the state of Kentucky, we are finding better ways to look after the safety of our children.

At this time fourteen states have established bans on this medieval practice. This year it will be presented again to our Congressional leaders, who have not yet felt enough energy attached to the issue to act. You can help! Learn more at: The Trevor Project.org, and, for action steps, see Ban Conversion Therapy KY and call your representative now and urge support for House Bill 211 and Senate Bill 248 to protect our next generation and those yet to come: ban conversion therapy in Kentucky.

The Kentucky legislative Hotline is 1-800-372-7181.

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