Good Riddance, Conversion ‘Therapy’; Say ‘Hey’ To Bloodletting And Lobotomies When You See ‘Em

We don't "own" our children. We don't have the right to subject them to a medical procedure based upon a moral diagnosis.
05/24/2017 04:02 pm ET Updated Jun 08, 2017
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This may be hard for some to believe, but not everyone feels great here in Nevada that our legislators recently outlawed licensed therapists from trying to talk children out of being gay. This type of “therapy,” traditionally called “conversion” or “reparative therapy,” is now no longer a treatment option — at least not from a licensed therapist acting in a professional capacity. Nevada now joins only eight other states with similar laws.

A number of conservatives, religious and otherwise, have stated that such laws are a misguided effort at “political correctness” and that they violate the First Amendment rights of religious Americans. But the Supreme Court and many lower appeals courts have consistently rejected speech and religious arguments on the grounds of, oh I don’t know, science.

Are individuals prohibited from believing as they wish? No. Are the masses prohibited from worshiping as they choose? No. Is anyone prohibited from saying that they believe “conversion therapy is the best darn idea since exorcism?” No. Still have freedom of the press? Check. Right to assemble and petition the government? Double check. Then (whew!) the First Amendment seems to be intact.

I would suggest that the real issue underscoring why conversion therapy should be outlawed is semantic, and that issue centers on what people mean when they talk about “my child.” Is it about a relationship like “my friend” or “my uncle?” Or maybe we mean something more like ownership, as in “my underwear” or “my car.” Some people believe the latter; they believe that they own their children. Because of this, they believe that they have the right to do with them as they please in regard to “helping them” with their sexuality.

This is very much like those in America and elsewhere who believe that women who enjoy sex are bad — unthinkably bad. To protect their daughters from being so bad, they submit them to the non-medical procedure of clitoridectomy, also known as genital mutilation, so that their girls grow up incapable of enjoying normal sexual pleasure. Their justification: “She’s our daughter, it’s our right!” We in the West had our own version of these procedures with girls and women. Some doctors used the procedure in the 19th century to prevent masturbation or to cure neurosis. This was discontinued in the 1800s, but nowadays, the World Health Organization estimates that there are about 200 million women and girls living with the results of a “procedure” none of them wanted.

We don’t “own” our children. We don’t have the right to subject them to a medical procedure based upon a moral diagnosis. All treatment, whether physical or mental, requires a clinical, scientific diagnosis. Such diagnoses are normally arrived at following a finding that there is “significant distress or impairment” as a result of a problem. This notion of “distress or impairment” doesn’t include parents getting upset over their children’s sexual orientation. Following the principle of “the person with the pain is the person with the problem,” those parents are encouraged to seek help — for themselves.

At the beginning of my life, before I became a therapist, homosexuality was a mental illness, a crime, and a sin. It stopped being a mental illness when professionals realized that homosexuality was a normal part of the normal range of human sexual diversity. It stopped being a crime when the Supreme Court accepted the science on this and realized that the law was founded on prejudice and ignorance. There is still some good news for those who don’t believe the science and who still believe that sexual orientation is a choice. They can still practice casting out the demon of homosexuality (and, for good measure, the demon of masturbation) through practices like exorcism.

They just have to come to terms with the fact that modern medical professionals and licensed therapists are legally regulated to practice based on scientific principles: no bloodletting, no lobotomies, and no conversion therapy.

Marriage and Family Therapist Steven Ing has spent nearly three decades teaching clients about how to intelligently manage their sexuality in both their personal and professional lives. Tweet @StevenIngMFT or email him at askING@stevening.com.

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