Conversion therapy is harmful says the American Psychological Association
The American Psychological Association (APA) has adopted a resolution opposing efforts to change people’s gender identity, also known as conversion therapy.
The resolution, adopted by the APA’s governing Council of Representatives on 26 February, aligns with the association’s stance against similar efforts aimed at changing people’s sexual orientation.
“There is a growing body of research that shows that transgender or nonbinary gender identities are normal variations in human expression of gender,” said APA President Jennifer F. Kelly, PhD. “Attempts to force people to conform with rigid gender identities can be harmful to their mental health and well-being.”
The resolution emphasises that “individuals who have experienced pressure or coercion to conform to their sex assigned at birth or therapy that was biased toward conformity to one’s assigned sex at birth have reported harm resulting from these experiences, such as emotional distress, loss of relationships, and low self-worth.”
At the same meeting, the council also adopted an updated Resolution on Sexual Orientation Change Efforts, which reiterates the APA’s opposition to using nonscientific explanations to frame same-gender and multiple-gender orientations as unhealthy.
APA adopted its first resolution discouraging efforts to change people’s sexual orientation in 1997 and a second in 2009, when it also issued a task force report with a systematic review of research on the topic. The new resolution now specifically opposes those conversion therapy efforts.
“The research on [efforts to change people’s sexual orientation] published since APA’s (2009) task force report and resolution has continued to support the conclusions that former participants in [sexual orientation change efforts] look back on those experiences as harmful to them and that there is no evidence of sexual orientation change,” the new resolution says.
Both resolutions highlight the negative impact conversion therapy can have on young people. They note that in one study of a large online sample of young people in the LGBTQ community those who experienced such change efforts were significantly more likely to report having attempted suicide, and having done so more than once, than those who did not have such experiences.
The council also accepted new Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Sexual Minority Persons, which replaces similar guidelines published in 2012. The latest iteration reflects the importance of considering intersecting identities, such as being Black and gay or being an older bisexual. The new guidelines also focus more on bisexuality than the previous version.
“Psychologists are in a position to assist individuals of all gender identities and expressions with exploring their sexual orientations,” the guidelines said. “Psychologists are encouraged to validate, normalise, and assist others in understanding the complex interactions [among] sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression, keeping cultural differences in mind.”
Conversion therapy for minors is banned in a handful of countries and regions, including Germany, but is not expressly outlawed in South Africa. In 2018, the Psychological Society of South Africa asserted that conversion therapy is dangerous and unethical.