It is time to take action to protect children and families from the harmful practice of conversion therapy. Consider the case of Sam Brinton, who was subjected to conversion therapy as a 12-year-old boy after he disclosed to his family that he was attracted to a male friend. He underwent years of so-called “therapy” designed to eradicate his attraction to males.
After being subjected to a range of emotionally and physically abusive practices, including verbal intimidation, shaming, and the infliction of physical pain to his body via extreme temperatures and electric shock, Sam became suicidal, depressed, highly anxious, and avoidant of intimacy. He was still attracted to males but he learned to hide these feelings. It has taken Sam years to recover from his horrendous experience with conversion therapy.
Conversion therapy, sometimes known as ‘reparative therapy,’ or ‘sexual orientation change efforts,’ is a range of dangerous and discredited practices that falsely claim to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. In other words, it attempts to make LGBTQ youth heterosexual and gender conforming. It is based on the false assumption that being LGBTQ is abnormal or pathological. It has been proven to be totally ineffective, as well as harmful.
As a clinical psychologist who has been in practice for over thirty years, I believe it is time for the youth of Maryland to be protected from this dangerous practice. Psychotherapy must be a place of trust and safety where clients can explore all issues without judgment or bias from their therapist. Clients should never be treated in shaming, intimidating, or abusive ways by mental health professionals. As therapists, we must strive to do no harm, and conversion therapy is clearly harmful to youth. It is especially dangerous to young people, who have no protection against being subjected to these practices.
Research shows that conversion therapy poses significant risks for LGBTQ youth, including depression, decreased self-esteem, substance abuse, homelessness, and suicide. The practice is condemned by every major medical and mental health organization, including the American Psychiatric Association, the American Medical Association, and the American Psychological Association. Research from the Williams Institute at UCLA indicates that an estimated 20,000 LGBTQ minors in states without protections will be subjected to conversion therapy by a licensed healthcare professional.
While conversion therapy is prohibited in ten states and the District of Columbia, it is still legal in Maryland.
Currently, there is a bill before the Maryland state legislature that would ban the practice of conversion therapy by licensed health providers to youth in Maryland. Sponsored by Senator Rich Madaleno (SB1028) and Delegate Bonnie Cullison (HB 902), the bill is strongly supported by the Human Rights Campaign, Free State Justice of Maryland, the Maryland Psychological Association, WISE of Anne Arundel County, as well as many other organizations that represent religious, mental health, and LGBTQ communities.
We urge you to contact your local representatives to express your support for the Youth Mental Health Protection Act. Take action to protect the vulnerable youth in our community and to ensure that children like Sam Brinton never have to experience the long-lasting physical and emotional trauma caused by conversion therapy.
Abbie Ellicott is a clinical psychologist in Severna Park.
Comments? Please see our Facebook Post.