Conversion therapy is a dangerous and widespread practice

An estimated 20,000 LGBT youth ages 13 to 17 will undergo conversion therapy from a licensed health care professional before the age of 18, according to a 2018 study by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law. The researchers also found that approximately 698,000 LGBT adults in the U.S have received conversion therapy at some point in their lives, including about 350,000 who received it as adolescents.

One would be hard-pressed to find licensed mental health professionals openly marketing conversion therapy services for minors. This is neither surprising nor indicative that conversion therapy is not being provided to minors.

All major medical organizations have issued statements rejecting the use of conversion therapy on minors, including organizations of counselors, therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists. It would be problematic for an individual who is a member of any of those organizations to advertise that they are engaging in therapeutic interventions in contravention to those statements and, potentially, in violation of the relevant organization's code of ethics.

Many licensed mental health professionals who are practitioners of conversion therapy do not advertise that part of their practice. Patients are often surprised to find that when they disclose that they are gay or transgender to their therapist, the therapist responds by saying that they are not “really” LGBT; rather, that the client’s perceived sexual orientation or gender identity is a response to trauma that can and should be treated and changed. Thus, while the patient may not have gone in seeking to change their sexual orientation or gender identity, they find conversion therapy forced on them by their therapist.

In 2017, Katherine McCobb filed a complaint against California-licensed marriage and family therapist Lloyd Willey. Mr. Willey holds himself out as an expert in providing patients who require assistance coping with trauma. Ms. McCobb paid Mr. Willey for his professional counseling services, trusting that as a licensed mental health professional he would provide her with accurate information and would not mislead, deceive, or defraud her.

Although Ms. McCobb did not seek out therapy because of her sexual orientation, Willey fixated on McCobb’s lesbian identity and began to pressure her to become straight, telling her that being a lesbian was unnatural and that she could “rewire” her brain. McCobb paid Willey more than $70,000 for eight years of therapy based on fraudulent, harmful lies. The practice of so-called “conversion therapy” has been discredited by the American Psychological Association and other professional counseling organizations as ineffective, unethical, and dangerous.

Conversion therapy is far more common than people want to believe, and any estimate of the number of practitioners is likely to vastly understate the true number. .

Roland Behm