Gay-to-straight Conversion Therapy

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:00 pm on 20th November 2013.

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Photo of Sandra Osborne Sandra Osborne Labour, Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock 4:00 pm, 20th November 2013

I agree with the hon. Gentleman and I hope to get some answers from the Minister.

Conversion therapy used to be a much greater and more systemic problem in Britain than it is today. In the 1950s and ’60s, LGBT patients were routinely forwarded by teachers, GPs and, as in the case of Alan Turing, criminal courts to NHS so-called specialists in sexual orientation treatment. During that period, all branches of psychology from the cognitive to the behavioural and the psychodynamic had their own cruel and unpalatable methods of dealing with same-sex attraction.

The watershed moment came when homosexuality was removed from the American “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” in 1973. However, simply changing the rules does not change an entire system overnight. Conversion therapy persisted and psychotherapy remains an unregulated profession in Britain. Anyone in the country can set up as a psychotherapist without being part of a professional body, and there are professionals practising in the NHS and therapy sectors who received their training well before homosexuality ceased to be classed a mental illness. Even the new intake of therapists is a cause for concern.

In 2008, a survey of 226 British psychology undergraduates was published in the Journal of Homosexuality and found that only 66% agreed with an equal age of consent. That is the context in which we should view the extent of conversion therapy in Britain. In a 2009 survey of more than 1,300 accredited mental health professionals, nearly 300 willingly admitted to having attempted to change at least one patient’s sexuality. Even more shocking, the therapists admitted that some 35% of the patients they treated were referred to them for treatment by GPs, and 40% were treated inside an NHS practice.