Researchers from University College London (UCL) and St George's, University of London, say that a significant minority of psychiatrists and therapists are still attempting to help lesbian, gay and bisexual clients become heterosexual despite a lack of evidence that such treatment is beneficial or even safe.
The study findings are based on questions put to over 1,400 mental health professionals on whether they would attempt to change a client's sexual orientation if requested. Although only 4 percent said that they would do so, 17 percent reported having assisted at least one client to reduce their gay or lesbian feelings, usually through therapy. Therapists were also asked in what year they had conducted such therapy and there was no sign of a decrease in recent times.
"There is very little evidence to show that attempting to treat a person's homosexual feelings is effective and in fact it can actually be harmful," said UCL researcher Michael King. "So it is surprising that a significant minority of practitioners still offer this help to their clients."
King found that a number of reasons were given by the psychiatrists and therapists for offering assistance, ranging from the counselor's own moral and religious views about homosexuality through to a desire to help patients who were stressed by discrimination. There was also a degree of ignorance about the lack of evidence surrounding the efficacy of such therapies - in particular, that no randomized control trials have ever been conducted that show that the therapies are effective.
Commenting on the research, Derek Munn, Director of Public Affairs at the gay and lesbian equality organization Stonewall, said: "So-called gay cure therapies are wholly discredited. The conclusions of this research are a welcome reminder that what lesbian and gay people need is equal treatment by society, not misguided treatment by a minority of health professionals."
The just-released research, published in the journal BMC Psychiatry, coincides with the launch of the website www.treatmentshomosexuality.org.uk that gathers together oral histories from lesbian, gay and bisexual people who have undergone treatment as well as from professionals who developed and conducted such treatments.
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Source: University College London and University of London