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What is conversion therapy?

Conversion therapy, or so-called is any form of talk therapy or similar activity that seeks to break down a person's sexual attraction or  gender identity. Attempts may also be made to force an attraction to the opposite sex, or identification with recorded birth sex.

The word “therapy” can be misleading, as there is no scientific basis for conversion therapy as it isn't really a form of therapy. There is no attempt to medically intervene to improve a person's wellbeing. Instead conversion therapy attempts to erase a person's authentic gender identity / sexuality and make it heteronormative, usually for the convenience of other people. Practices often vary wildly, and are not regulated by any official body. In other words: it’s not medical, and you don’t know what you’re getting.

What does conversion therapy look like?

Because it's a fake solution to a non-existent problem, conversion therapy can look wildly different place-to-place as people who force it on others don't really know what they're doing. Some of these might look like:

  • pseudo-scientific counselling sessions
  • pain-inducing "aversion therapy"
  • being induced to ingest “purifying” substances
  • threatening a person with homelessness
  • corrective rape
  • being prayed over as a form of “healing"
  • exorcisms

Sometimes the perpetrators think these methods will "cure" others, sometimes they maliciously hope that the cruelty, shame, pain and trauma of the experience is enough to stop a queer person from outwardly expressing who they really are.

Does it ever work?

In a word: no. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest conversion therapy works. In fact, data suggests that the practice is extremely dangerous.

Not only does conversion therapy fail to change someone’s sexuality or gender identity, it’s also likely to worse feelings of anxiety, self-harm, depression and low self-esteem. It’s a “cure” for an illness that does not exist.

Conversion therapy is also likely to make prejudice and self-hatred flourish. LGBT+ people who feel rejected in such a way by families and communities are far more likely to self-harm, or consider suicide.

Some of the most important mental health organisations in the UK have concluded that conversion therapy is unethical. In the UK, organisations including NHS England, NHS Scotland, UK Council for Psychotherapy, and the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy have all signed a Memorandum of Understanding (a fancy word for an agreement)  making their position on conversion therapy clear:

“efforts to try to change or alter sexual orientation through psychological therapies are unethical and potentially harmful.” 

The agreement was signed by all the organisations below.

Should doctors or medical professionals be recommending it?

Absolutely not. All doctors and medical professionals in the UK have clear advice from the NHS that conversion therapy is not a valid treatment. They are also bound by law to treat LGBT+ people with the same dignity and respect as their heterosexual and cis counterparts.

If your doctor is referring you to conversion therapy, you should immediately report them to the General Medical Council.

Is conversion therapy legal?

Though conversion therapy isn’t yet illegal in the UK, it is frowned upon by all reputable medical and scientific organisations.

Within the EU and UK there are calls to make the practice illegal.

I’m being forced into it, what can I do?

No one should be forced to undergo conversion therapy. If your family or other group is strong-arming you into it, then you are at risk of significant harm.

We recommend that first and foremost, you tell someone about your situation, this could be a trusted figure like a teacher, friend, loved one or work colleague. There are also several charities you can contact who you can talk to about your situation.

LGBT Switchboard – Open 10am – 10pm on 0300 330 0630. They will listen to you and may be able to direct you to somewhere that can help

Albert Kennedy Trust – Offers housing and safe spaces to LGBT youth in crisis or who have become homeless. Contact on 020 7831 6562.

Galop - The UK's LGBTQ+ anti violence and charity is there for you. Conversion therapy is a form of abuse for which they can provide support. Contact on 0800 130 3335