A Note on Reparative Therapy: “I’m Still Gay & Now, I’m Depressed.”

By Dr. Jami Wilder

The bottom line on reparative therapy (aka conversion therapy) is:

It doesn’t work.

It is wickedly harmful.

Period. End of story.

And here’s why:

1. It doesn’t work: The consensus of nearly every reputable major health organization in the country is that reparative therapy, or therapy designed to change a person’s sexual orientation, is ineffective. Research across several disciplines concludes the same thing.

It doesn’t work because it is built on the fundamentally flawed notion that you can choose sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is NOT a choice any more than eye color or race. It is a core part of a person’s identity. You can certainly choose to engage in a particular sexual behavior. For instance, you can choose to use toys in sexual activity. However, you do not have a sexual orientation to silicone.

Sexual behavior DOES NOT equate to sexual orientation.

Sexual orientation is built on your emotional, psychological, spiritual, and sexual connections to others (or in some cases, to no others at all). It is a fundamental part of who we are and should be celebrated just as we celebrate all our identities.

2. It is wickedly harmful: In the mental health field, many of us are cleaning up the psychological mess made by reparative therapists and religious-based conversion programs and camps. Rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation and attempts increase for people who are subjected to this “treatment.” Trying to change a basic, fundamental part of who you are is damaging to your soul.

The American Psychological Association, and other health organizations, has instructed clinicians not to engage in practices designed to change someone’s sexual orientation. You can read the stances of some of those organizations here.

In the majority of instances, the distress that individuals feel related to sexual orientation is created and maintained by our culture that perpetuates heteronormativity and homophobia. For those who experience distress, it is far better to engage in affirming counseling and to find an affirming therapist.

Jami Wilder, Psy.D, is co-owner of Wilder Therapy and Wellness in Cranston, RI. She is also a postdoctoral fellow at RWU Counseling Center.

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