Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Conversion Therapy Ban

Yesterday, MA Chapter testified at a State House hearing to support House bill 97, A Bill to Ban Conversion and Reparative Therapy.  I was joined by President-Elect Allison Scobie-Carroll, LICSW and Francie Mandel, LICSW, both of Children's Hospital Boston.  The bill is a first step toward preventing the use of abusive conversion therapies on minors. The hearing room was filled with proponents and opponents who often gave contradictory interpretations of the same statements from the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association. The phenomenon is a universal one: something is said and the listeners or readers give that something their own interpretation.  Join the human experience.  Below, please see the entire NASW-MA testimony:

"Dear Senate Co-Chair Jennifer Flanagan, House Co-Chair Kay Khan and Honorable Members of the Committee,

Thank you for this opportunity to testify before you on HB 97 The Conversion Therapy Ban, an Act relative to abusive practices to change sexual orientation and gender identity in minors.

My name is Carol Trust.  I am the Executive Director of the National Association of Social Workers-MA Chapter (NASW-MA), the largest professional social work organization in the state and the country.

NASW unequivocally opposes the practice of any forms of conversion or reparative therapy, along with the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association and the Pan American Health Association. Services that purport to "cure" people with non-heterosexual sexual orientation lack medical justification and represent a serious threat to the health and well-being of affected people. The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), issued a statement calling on governments, academic institutions, professional associations and the media to expose practices known as "reparative therapy" or "conversion therapy" and to promote respect for diversity. The statement asserted that "Since homosexuality is not a disorder or a disease, it does not require a cure."

At its Annual Convention in 2009, the American Psychological Association adopted a resolution that mental health professionals should avoid telling clients they can change their sexual orientation through therapy or other treatments.  The resolution was based on the APA’s Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation, which reviewed decades of research and found insufficient evidence that such treatments work.

Instead of telling clients that they can change, therapists should help them find ways to become more comfortable with their sexual orientation. It also advises parents and guardians to avoid treatments that portray homosexuality as a mental illness or developmental disorder.

It is sometimes remarkable to sit back and think about all of the changes and developments that have occurred in the medical world.  The treatment for heart disease, for example, has evolved over the past 30 years.  And so has our understanding of GLBT development.  It was in 1973 that homosexuality was eliminated by the American Psychiatric Association as a mental disorder.  Just like one does not choose to be straight, one does not choose to be gay, lesbian, or transgender.

What these teens need is understanding and acceptance. And real therapy, particularly by social workers. One of the things that make social workers unique is that we work so closely with families and have the pulse of what is going on in the client’s home.  We work with clients who have histories of all kinds of trauma and abuse.  We know the damage that can be done when anyone, but particularly an adolescent, whose developmental task is to figure out who he or she is in the world and gain comfort with that role, is expected to be someone that he or she is not.  GLBT youth are more vulnerable to bullying, depression, and suicide.  Many of these GLBT young people feel isolated, and receive messages about their sexuality that creates self-loathing.  This might manifest itself by the young person having anger outbursts, flunking out in school, or cutting herself on the back of  her legs so no one can see. (I should point out that this is not a suicide attempt, but a way to release stress.)   Therefore, the thought of an already vulnerable teen being put into the hostile environment of conversion therapy whose goal is to force him or her to be someone they are not is a recipe for disaster.  And it is ironic to call such an experience therapy.

Treatment by social workers involves starting where the teens are at and helping them accept themselves and eliminate shame and self-loathing.  Part of therapy means being empathic and non-judgmental and working on the goals that the client wants to work on.  We do not persuade people to be someone or something that they are not, which is what is practiced by conversion therapy. Licensed Independent Clinical Social workers establish a therapeutic contract with the teen in which it is clear that we are equal partners in reaching the goals. 

Another factor that makes social workers unique as therapists is that we are mindful of cultural differences.  We honor and respect the values of different cultural and racial groups and try to understand the perspective of people who do not come from mainstream culture.

I want to close my testimony with the following quote from the Family Acceptance Project:
“When we hold our baby in the nursery for the first time, no one tells us that our baby might be gay. By the time we know who our children are, we may have hurt them in many ways. No one teaches us how to help and protect our gay … children. We may think we can help by trying to change them – but we need to love them for who they are.”
      (From Family Acceptance Project, Dr. Caitlin Ryan, San Francisco State University, 2009)

Massachusetts has always been in the forefront  in education, healthcare, and high technology.  I urge you to make Massachusetts among the leaders of the states that repeal conversion therapy.
Thank you very much for your time.

Respectfully submitted,
Carol J. Trust, LICSW
Executive Director
NASW-MA Chapter"

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