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What is Conversion Therapy?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Conversion therapy or reparative therapy is the attempt to change homosexual behavior, converting a person from homosexual to heterosexual. It presupposes that homosexuality is a behavior and choice instead of sexual orientation, and that given the appropriate therapeutic environment people can be “converted” to heterosexuality. The therapies involved vary and are highly controversial. The chief argument against this form of therapy is that it views homosexuality as a “disease state” which may be presumably be “cured.”

A wide range of professional organizations do not condone the practice of conversion therapy, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Counseling Association, and the American Psychological association. The World Health Organization only respects this treatment when used by people who want to switch their orientation due to psychological pain in discovering homosexual feelings, and this may be a guide for therapists in the US, but only for those who practice this form of therapy.

Some believe that a reason conversion therapy still exists in many forms is because of the early definitions when psychiatry and therapy first began, suggesting homosexuality was pathological. Sigmund Freud, though believing all people were bisexual, has some writings that support this view. Even the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual was very clear in the 1950s about drawing the line between homosexuality and mental illness.

As time progressed, attitudes and research regarding homosexuality changed the minds of many, but not all. Increasing activism in the homosexual community and organizations like Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) creating increased acceptance of the idea that homosexuals were perhaps born and not made. However, this still flew in the face of a number of people with fundamental religious views, where homosexuality may be viewed as not only diseased but also inherently sinful.

Typically, conversion therapy continues to exist primarily as attached to fundamental religious communities. The kindest view is that homosexual behavior is a wrong choice and that homosexuals are expressing a preference rather than an orientation. The goal is to reduce this preference to an acceptable level so that heterosexual relationships may be explored instead. Most people who practice this therapy don’t believe they will completely eliminate homosexual thoughts of people undergoing it, but they hope to reduce them to the point where they will not influence behavior.

There are number of techniques that may be employed in conversion therapy, including hypnosis, aversion therapy, and group therapy. People may attend single therapy sessions or they might go to facilities that work on this issue. Some therapies employ methods like guilt, particularly religious guilt, but this highly variable.

Not that many studies exist to show the effectiveness of conversion therapy. It appears to have a low success rate, and most of the medical community is loath to study it, having already abandoned it. Most mainstream therapists find this therapy repugnant given what is presently understood about homosexuality, and they would not be interested in attempting to perpetrate conversion therapy on any of their clients.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon1001419 — On Apr 09, 2019

Conversion therapy has worked in some cases; however it does depend on the individual and their desire to change.

I don't understand why some find it OK for people who change who they are one way but not in another.

I believe that conversion therapy is given a bad rep just because of the way progressive culture views anything that is not part of the mainstream agenda.

Furthermore, to touch on a comment above; there is no proof that modern conversion therapy ever killed anyone or increases the likelihood of suicide. Homosexuals and transgender males already have a high probability of suicide risk due to other mental and social disorders which are common among the community.

By anon285639 — On Aug 16, 2012

I hope this quack therapy will be outlawed in California and worldwide.

It has a zero percent success rate and it can kill the patient.

By anon59386 — On Jan 08, 2010


Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia...
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