A shocking British study has revealed that 17 percent of therapists in the UK have attempted to help their lesbian, gay and bisexual clients become heterosexual; this despite there being no scientific evidence that such treatments are effective or even safe for patients’ mental health.

The study, published in the journal BMC Psychiatry, was conducted by researchers from University College London (UCL) and St George’s, University of London and consisted of a survey of 1,406 mental health professionals.

Although only 55 (4%) of therapists said that they would attempt to change a client’s sexual orientation if one asked for such therapy, 222 (17%) reported having assisted at least one client/patient to reduce or change his or her homosexual or lesbian feelings in the past.

“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 Professor Michael King, Professor of Primary Care Psychiatry at UCL Mental Health Sciences, “so it is surprising that a significant minority of practitioners still offer this help to their clients.”

According to the researchers, the reasons given by the therapists for attempting such treatment included their own moral or religious view as well as their desire to help distressed patients.

One hundred and fifty nine of the 222 therapists who had provided such treatment considered that a service should be available for people who want to change their sexual orientation.

The researchers said that there was a significant degree of ignorance among the therapists about the lack of evidence surrounding the efficacy of such therapies – in particular, that no randomised control trials showing that therapy is effective in changing people’s sexuality have ever been conducted.

“The best approach is to help people adjust to their situation, to value them as people and show them that there is nothing whatsoever pathological about their sexual orientation… Both mental health practitioners and society at large must help them to confront prejudice in themselves and in others,” said King.

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