American Counseling Association Dust Up Over Conversion Therapies

In the July, 2006 newsletter of the American Counseling Association – Counseling Today – an article reporting the Ethic’s Committee’s analysis of conversion therapy was printed. A very similar piece is on the ACA website as a news release. Several counselors, myself included, have letters of response published in the September issue. I am considering asking the committee to rule on critical incident stress debriefing or Jungian analysis. The most surprising aspect of the ACA Ethics Committee work was citing Nicolosi et al as an evidence of harm. If that is true, then Shidlo and Schroeder really indicate benefit from change efforts.

4 thoughts on “American Counseling Association Dust Up Over Conversion Therapies”

  1. To be fair:

    “What we really need is someone to stand up, and say firmly: “this is what therapy of this sort is all about.”

    We can’t get psychologists and counselors to say that there is any standard, ethical form of treatment for any “condition.”


    The ACA is implying that they have some sort of gold standard for treatment generally which they do not have. Then they are selectively applying that “gold standard” to therapists who assist clients with unwanted same sex attractions.

    Psychodynamic therapy, EMDR, marital therapy and biofeedback have all been ethically applied to a number of presenting concerns by patients despite their dubious efficacy.

    With marital therapy, the results are especially dubious. Some might even say harmful: at five years only 11% of couples referred for counseling remain married.


    Psychology generally is the softest of sciences.

    Counseling and psychotherapy are the unscientific practices of apply the conclusions of the softest science.

    It is manipulative and ingenuous to accuse others of practicing unethically by applying a standard that the rest of the field cannot meet. It is a political ploy to mascaurade (sp) as scientists selectively to persecute those with whom you disagree.

    By the way, is there more than the 2001 study that describes the potential harm for recieveing help to change one’s sexual orientation?

    That study is interesting, but actually a highly selective survey (which found a tiny percentage were actually helped…kind of like marital therapy!). We should get more research soon and design a more scientific study before we accuse people of being unethical in this Soft Science and Intuitive Practice.

    David Blakeslee

  2. I’d agree with Allison’s first paragraph, and consequently not with her second.

    It seems that the ACA is indeed describing conversion therapy, as described, and hence has done it’s homework. Those would be the practices that commence with an assumption about both being a pathology (or, double-speak, “arrested development”, “gender confusion” etc) and that a therapy based on that false idea can successfully alter someone from gay to straight.

    Warren, I hope someone — urgh, other than us here, I mean — does pick you up on the fact that you are NOT addressing those practices in your letter. You start with “identity” and that’s as sure a sign as any that you are not.

    People who come to a therapist hoping to clarify their beliefs, hopes, etc are not asking a therapist to change their sexual orientation as such. They may actually want to, but they are not asking for it. At least not up front. The therapist can certainly help a client explore the important values in their life: and that does not require them to declare homosexuality to be one thing or another. Jeepers, most people do that with someone else every day in one way or another.

    When you say in the letter that the question is not whether homosexuality is a pathology or if conversion will be possible you are missing the point: or avoiding it. Because those claims are exactly what the reparative industry does make, and exactly why those claims need to be identified and refuted.

    (Just IMO, but you would have made a stronger point if you had stated what practices and basis you do object to, and then reiterated that the new statement does not prevent this other work with values clarification.)

    Some, but I doubt few, could object to even the exploration of values etc that you talk about. More to do with a concern about the therapist leading the client, I don’t doubt. But doing that work has little, or nothing, to do with the practice/basis/demand for conversion therapy. Or shouldn’t.

    I’m mystified why you think defending values clarification is somehow a defense of the conversion therapy that the ACA and others are concerned about. After being at pains not to confuse the two, elsewhere, you are instead blurring them on this occassion.


  3. Allison – Yes, you are correct to a point. We provide a framework within which certain change therapies could fit if they do not use touch, invasive techniques, coercion, or tell clients why they have SSA. Also, they therapist cannot relate to the client that SSA is pathology. So some uncovering therapies could fit with some adjustment.

  4. Warren, there seems to be a difference between your brand of “Sexual Identity Therapy” and the brand of therapy described by the ACA–that is, the brand of conversion therapy that causes harm and which views SSA as a disease.

    It’s a shame that the ACA didn’t do their homework before writing their report–after all, they are only repeating the words of gay activists–that is, that therapy is harmful, and that it never works, etc etc.

    By the same token, those same gay activists didn’t just come up with it on their own–organizations like Exodus have fumbled in the past, coming across as a national embarrassment (the Paulk affair), similarly, we got psychos like Richard Cohen running around professing to be the gold standard when it comes to re-orientation therapies.

    What we really need is someone to stand up, and say firmly: “this is what therapy of this sort is all about.” Perhaps some sort of organization can be formed that will hopeuflly undo all the negative perceptions and bad press associated with those who offer alternative therapies for people with SSA.

    Warren, I think you are more than qualified for the job =).

    Happy birthday Mr. Ex-president!!

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