The Battle for Counseling Freedom for All: A Small Victory and a Huge Setback For Those With Gender Dysphoria
COMMENTARY: Activists promoting ‘conversion therapy bans’ will not be satisfied until every last counselor, therapist, priest or pastor on planet earth has been silenced, shamed or scared into submission.
The worldwide battle for counseling freedom for all will have far-reaching consequences for freedom of speech, religion, and association. The ostensible issue at stake is banning “conversion therapy,” which is claimed to be “harmful’ and “ineffective” and even the equivalent of “torture.”
But the ultimate issue at stake is whether sexual revolutionary activists can limit speech inside a counselor’s office, personal prayer and the ability of individual clients to associate with counselors who will assist them in achieving their own therapeutic goals.
I bring good news and bad news from the battlefront. The good news is that one of the leading organizations of therapists in the United Kingdom issued an encouraging statement. The bad news is that the Australian state of Victoria crossed a serious line by claiming the right to regulate private prayers.
In November, the U.K. Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) issued a new “guidance concerning gender critical views.”
“Case law has confirmed that gender-critical beliefs (which include the belief that sex is biological and immutable, people cannot change their sex and sex is distinct from gender-identity) are protected under the Equality Act 2010. Individuals who hold such beliefs must therefore not be discriminated against.
Psychotherapists and psychotherapeutic counsellors who hold such views are likely to believe that the clinically most appropriate approach to working therapeutically with individuals who present with gender dysphoria, particularly children and young people, is exploratory therapy, rather than medicalized interventions such as puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones or reassignment surgery.
Psychotherapists and psychotherapeutic counsellors are free to conduct their professional practice in this way.”
You might think sarcastically, “Isn’t that generous of them to allow people to hold these commonsense beliefs?” But this is a monumental statement, considering that 27 U.S. states plus the District of Columbia have limited or altogether banned client-directed talk therapy under the misleading label of “conversion therapy.” Some of these jurisdictions ban talk therapy to change gender identity, as well as sexual orientation.
While the U.K. organization still holds that “conversion therapy, (which seeks to change or deny a person’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity) is harmful and must not be practiced,” there is a glimmer of hope. What the UKCP calls “exploratory therapy” is in effect, what the Christian therapists’ organizations have been asking for. Therapist groups such as the International Foundation for Therapeutic and Counseling Choice and groups representing those who have journeyed away from an LGBT identity, assert the right to conduct and receive client-directed talk therapy to meet the client’s goals surrounding gender dysphoria and same-sex attraction. The therapy these organizations want would fit broadly under the “exploratory therapy” label.
Meanwhile, in Australia, the state of Victoria has enacted sweeping restrictions on therapeutic choice, the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Act of 2021 (explained here.) The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission states flatly, “It is against the law to try to change or suppress someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity, even if they ask for help.”
Scrolling down the page for professionals, institutions and communities, we find a header “Prayer practices: with or without an LGBT person.” Prohibited practices include praying:
- with or for an LGBT person that they might change their sexual orientation or gender identity;
- with or for an LGBT person to be celibate.
The government of Victoria crosses the line into regulating acceptable prayers, helpfully laid out in tabular form:
Likely to cause harm and be a change or suppression practice
Ways to continue practicing your faith without causing harm
Prayers that are directed at a person to change or suppress their sexual orientation or gender identity cause harm and are prohibited.
These could include prayers that:
There is a broad range of prayers that would be acceptable and supportive.
These include prayers:
As justification for this outrageous intrusion into freedom of speech, religion, association and even freedom of thought, the Human Rights Commission baldly asserts: “There is no scientific evidence that sexual orientation or gender identity can be changed or suppressed.”
Please note what an extreme statement this is. Even a single individual who changes his or her sexual orientation or gender identity is sufficient to refute the sweeping claim of “no evidence.” I personally am acquainted with and have interviewed people who have journeyed away from an LGBT identity. In the immortal words of the ChangedMovement, “We left LGBT because we wanted to.” For some of these individuals, therapy played an important role in their journey.
In addition to these individual stories, there is statistical evidence that some people do change their sexual orientation. Recent papers show some people achieving a lessening of same-sex attractions. In one of these studies, about a quarter of the men achieved complete remission of their same-sex behavior. Importantly, less than 5% of the men reported negative results from their therapy, even men who reported no change in their sexual orientation. The majority of participants reported other benefits from their “change-allowing” therapy, such as increases in self-esteem and social functioning and reductions in depression and suicidality.
Speaking of suicidality, my colleague at the Ruth Institute, Father Paul Sullins, has done pathbreaking research refuting the claims that sexual orientation change efforts-therapy increases suicidal tendencies. The widely cited study purporting to show a link between suicidality and sexual orientation change efforts neglected to take account of whether the therapy took place before or after the suicide attempts. Father Sullins wondered whether people who were in greater distress were more likely to seek therapy in the first place. If so, blaming the therapy as the cause of their suicidality would be a big mistake.
Father Sullins reanalyzed the data taking account of whether the suicide attempts took place before or after therapy. The claim that therapy caused suicidal tendencies evaporated. In fact, his results showed that therapy was associated with a reduction in people’s suicidal tendencies. Banning client-directed talk therapy will harm these vulnerable people.
The people who need and want sympathetic counseling for unwanted same-sex attraction and the associated problems in living will have no one to help them. These therapy bans are serious violations of fundamental human rights of clients as well as counselors. Yet the activists promoting these bans will not be satisfied until every last counselor, therapist, priest or pastor on planet earth has been silenced, shamed or scared into submission.
All of us should be troubled by this.
- sidewalk counseling
- catholic psychology
- gender dysphoria
- suicide and depression