The Right to Love: A Case for Ethics

Updated on April 4, 2018

Can lifestyle choices really be cured?

Abstract

Giving way to traditional thinking, there is a movement within the mental health profession to eradicate any and all forms of conversion therapy, aimed at curing homosexuality. California became the first state in the United Stated to place a ban on therapy practices that were geared toward turning gay persons straight. Conversion therapy dates back to the early Freudian era, and incorporated harmful and torturous acts by the clinician to prompt the patient to convert from gay to straight. Some of the techniques included electric shock therapy, or nausea inducing drugs, or more serious forms of torture, such as icepick lobotomies. According to Wikipedia, “The American Psychiatric Association (APA) opposes psychiatric treatment "based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon the a priori assumption that a patient should change his/her sexual homosexual orientation"[8] and describes attempts to change sexual orientation by practitioners as unethical.” (2018). The World Health Organization has also deemed those types of practices found in Conversion Therapy to be harmful to a person’s mental and physical health.


An independent study was conducted in 2009 by journalist Patrick Strudwick, in which he went undercover to pose as a client to further research the practice of Conversion Therapy. Following his undercover investigation, “He reported that psychotherapist Lesley Pilkington, a devout Christian, had tried to “convert” him to being straight by claiming that childhood “wounding” needed to be “healed”.” (Bamford 2012). The core ethical principle here is the mental health professional imposing their personal beliefs and cultures on the clients as they see as appropriate. Negating the fact that the client has a degree of value and rights to their personal beliefs as well. As stated in the human services professional code of ethics, “STANDARD 7 Human service professionals ensure that their values or biases are not imposed upon their clients.” (Wood). Pilkington, and many others who followed the Conversion Therapy suit, did just that. They imposed their personal values and biases on the clients with whom they worked. The American Psychological Association addresses in their ethical standards, “3.01 Unfair Discrimination In their work-related activities, psychologists do not engage in unfair discrimination based on age, gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, culture, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, socioeconomic status, or any basis proscribed by law.” (Ethical Principles, 2017). In essence, Conversion Therapy is an attempt at forced indoctrination by unethical means.

Dr. Charles Silverstein, a renowned gay rights activist as well as clinical psychologist and psychotherapist, wrote in his piece about the history and treatment of homosexuality in mental health, “There has always been a close fit between social norms and medical diagnosis and treatment. The treatment of homosexuality is a case in point. In no other diagnostic area can one find greater confusion between social mores and scientific judgment.” (Silverstein). Homosexuality was removed from the from the list of mental disorders in 1973 by the American Psychiatric Association, and since 1998, opposes any treatment that views homosexuality as a mental disorder or that a person should change their sexual orientation. The heavy hand of the ethics committees has come down on the practitioners who engage in such practices. As stated, “Psychotherapists have been told by their biggest professional body that it is unethical for them to try to “convert” people from being gay to straight.” (Bamford, 2012).

Welfel states in the text that, “When professionals act unethically, they may be disciplined by their employers, the state or provisional licensing board, and the national and state professional associations to which they belong.” (Welfel, 2013. p 317). When the American Psychiatric Association and the World Health Organization is stating, matter of factly, that the practice is unethical and cannot be performed within any bounds of ethical standards, any practitioner that goes against those ethical boundaries and engages in the practice anyway, should be reprimanded. When a mental health professional has engaged in such practices that has caused harm to a client, the first step in reprimanding is to identify and acknowledge the unethical behavior that they committed. During that remedial addressing of the consequences for their actions, the mental health professional can also acknowledge the impact those actions have had on the client. The mental health professional can engage in practices such as the text suggests, “Three essential questions that professionals need to answer when confronting their own mistakes are - Have I really acknowledged that I have violated professional standards? What damage have I done, and how can I undo or ameliorate that damage? What steps should I take to ensure that I do not repeat this mistake?” (Welfel, 2013. p 330).

Bamford goes on to say regarding the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, or BACP, “The BACP "opposes any psychological treatment such as 'reparative' or 'conversion' therapy which is based upon the assumption that homosexuality is a mental disorder or based on the premise that the client/patient should change his/her sexuality,” the letter says.” (Bamford, 2013). Steps are being taken to eradicate Conversion Therapy and to eliminate the practices that force shame onto the client because of their sexual orientation. In the outcome of Patrick Studwick and Lesley Pilkington, the article states that the sanctions imposed on Pilkington was to be charged by the BCAP for professional malpractice, and at the time of the writing, had lost an appeal on their decision. Silverstein went on in his paper to state, “Psychologists and psychiatrists attempted to cure homosexuals of their sexual desires by various means. Aversion therapy ended only because it was no longer fashionable in the egalitarian 1970s. Psychoanalysis has had an even longer life, and after years of failing to "cure" homosexuality, most psychoanalysts still maintain that homosexuality is a pathology that is curable with years of treatment. Because our society has laid a veneer of guilt on everyone's sexual desires, any form of treatment will find a ready supply of volunteers.” (Silverstein). Lending to the alluding that, while many of the practices are gone, the ingrained beliefs are still lingering, and at the ready to provide an air of indoctrination to those “affected” by being gay. In his concluding statements, Silverstein added, “Psychotherapists are now a positive force in the lives of gay people, and loving relationships between gay men and between lesbians are reinforced by gay-affirmative therapists. At the same time, some biomedical researchers have shifted the focus from a psychological pathology to a physical one and have even suggested techniques to prevent the birth of children who might ultimately become gay.” Showing even further that while some advances are being made, there is still much more to go. Shifting the focus does not eliminate the ideology that homosexuals are broken, it just simply is a means of looking for somewhere else to place the blame.

In my personal opinion of the practice of Conversion Therapy, I am completely in agreement with the American Psychiatric Association, in that I believe the practice is unethical and should have strict enforcement of banning the practice all together. The practices of Conversion Therapy are inhumane, and the degree of physical harm caused by some of those practices are astounding. But, as if the physical harm was not bad enough, the degree of emotional harm caused by those practices is detestable. Even thought in modern practice, icepick lobotomies and chemical castration are not the norm, telling someone that they are broken and need to be fixed, simply because they believe a different way than you do, or practice a different lifestyle than what you believe is not only detrimental, it goes against everything that the human services profession stands for. You are not empowering people when you utterly break them down and make them believe that they have something wrong with them.

Resources

Bamford, Emma. “Sexual 'Conversion' Therapy Unethical, Pscyhotherapists Told.” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 1 Oct. 2012, www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/sexual-conversion-therapy-unethical-pscyhotherapists-told-8193159.html.

“Conversion Therapy.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 28 Feb. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conversion_therapy.

“Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct.” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, 1 Jan. 2017, www.apa.org/ethics/code/index.aspx.

Silverstein, Charles. “History of Treatment/The Medical Treatment of Homosexuality. In Cabaj & Stein,.” Doctor Silverstein, www.drcsilverstein.com/publications/history.

Welfel, E. R. (2013). Ethics in Counseling & Psychotherapy, 5th Edition. [Bookshelf Online]. Retrieved from https://vsaccess.vitalsource.com/#/books/9781133710950/

Wood, Steve. “Ethical Standards for HS Professionals.” National Organization for Human Services, www.nationalhumanservices.org/ethical-standards-for-hs-professionals.


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