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NC behavior health professionals speak out against “conversion therapy”

More than 150 North Carolina behavioral health professionals have signed on to a letter urging lawmakers to pass the Mental Health Protection Act, outlawing so-called “conversion therapy” that attempts to cure minors of being lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.

The North Carolina Society for Clinical Social Work, which is partnering with the Born Perfect NC campaign, also released a formal position paper on the issue.

The society outlined a number of points in its opposition:

Medical and mental health Associations and Organizations have stated positions that prohibit the use of reparative or conversion approaches to work with people who are LGBT, and have made it unethical to do so in their codes of ethics.

* Research has shown the traumatic impact of shame and rejection on those who identify as LGBT. One study showed that LGBT young adults who experienced family rejection in adolescence were 8.4 times more likely to report attempting suicide, 5.9 times more likely to report high levels of depression, 3.4 times more likely to use illegal drugs, and 3.4 times more likely to report having engaged in unprotected sexual intercourse compared with peers who reported coming from families where there was no or low levels of rejection (Caitlin Ryan, et al., 2009).

* Children are our most vulnerable, because they lack the power, resources and developmental capacity to refuse the authority of the adults and have agency cover their lives. Mental health providers must be cognizant and sensitive to their unique position and role in either mitigating parental rejection and shame, or in contrast reinforcing these damaging messages, thus exacerbating attachment trauma prevalent in this vulnerable population. We know from research that this type of trauma can shape behavioral and mental health outcomes throughout the person’s life.

* Finally, we see it as an abuse of power and malpractice for mental health providers to use conversion or reparative therapy approaches, since they are coercive and impose the providers values on clients, run counter to medical and treatment standards and efficacy, violate professional ethics, ignore research demonstrating the traumatic effects of this intervention and represent emotional and sometimes physical abuse to adults, and especially children.

“As licensed clinicians we know the lifelong damage so-called conversion or reparative therapies do to those who identify as LGBTQ, especially minors and adults who are disabled,” the society said in a statement Monday. “Clinicians are required to treat diagnosable conditions according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) and to use therapies that have proven efficacy. Currently, there is no training or evidence-based treatment offered or condoned by any of the mental health professional organizations that attempts to change sexual or gender identity.”

“The role of mental health providers is to heal, not increase distress or cause damage,” the society said. “Treatments that attempt to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity significantly increase issues related to mental and sexual health, substance abuse and suicide.”

Sixteen states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico have outlawed the practice in what has become the fastest growing LGBTQ rights movement in American history. Despite recent polling showing overwhelming bipartisan support for outlawing the practice in North Carolina, the bill is struggling to even get a hearing in the Republican dominated General Assembly.

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