SOCIAL workers have taken a stand against therapies which claim to “cure” homosexuality on the grounds that they add to the mental distress of gay and lesbian people.
Declan Coogan, spokes-man for the Irish Association of Social Workers (IASW), said sexual orientation conversion therapy, also known as reparative therapy, “is based on the erroneous belief that homosexuality is an illness”.
“There is no evidence that conversion therapy is effective, though there is evidence of mental health risks associated with the use of such approaches with gay, lesbian or bisexual people,” he said.
Mr Coogan’s comments are on foot of a motion passed last week by social workers attending the AGM of the IASW where delegates voted to oppose use of reparative therapy in Ireland. Mr Coogan said IASW discouraged social workers from making referrals to agencies that claim to “cure” homosexuality.
GLEN, the gay and lesbian equality network, said attempting to change lesbian and gay peoples’ sexual orientation did not work “and can be harmful, especially for younger and more vulnerable gay people”.
Odhrán Allen, GLEN director of mental health strategy, said people would be surprised to hear that “reparative therapy” is still being offered by some professionals.
He said the new IASW policy “clearly identifies this practice as wrong”.
Mr Allen said having the support of family and friends was “the most helpful factor for lesbian and gay people as they become comfortable with their sexual orientation”.
Mr Allen said those who sought reparative therapy often did so because of the stresses arising from their experience of prejudice and stigmatisation as a result of their homosexuality.
Last month the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Britain issued a statement saying there was no sound scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be changed.
It also criticised “so-called treatments of homosexuality” as recommended by NARTH, the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) in the United States”.
The college said gay and lesbian people had a right to protection from therapies that are potentially damaging, “particularly those that purport to change sexual orientation”.
A study in Britain published in March found, of 1,848 mental health professionals surveyed, 222 reported having assisted at least one client/patient to reduce or change his or her homosexual or lesbian feelings. Counselling was the commonest (66%) treatment offered and there was no sign of a decline in treatments in recent years.
More than two-thirds of the 222 therapists who had provided such treatment believed a service should be available for people who want to change from homosexual to heterosexual
The study concluded that, given lack of evidence for the efficacy of such treatments, “this is likely to be unwise or even harmful”.
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