American Psychological Association says conversion practices are dangerous

The American Psychological Association, one of the world’s largest professional groups from psychologists, has released a formal position on conversion therapy as it relates to people’s gender identity, saying the practice causes harm and discrimination.

The group has long declared that conversion therapy is harmful to people on the basis of sexuality, but has now also included a declaration that trying to encourage someone to embrace their birth gender when they have shared they are transgender or non-binary is also harmful.

The organisation says Gender Identity Change Efforts (GICE)  refer to a range of techniques used by mental health professionals and nonprofessionals with the goal of changing gender identity, gender expression, or associated components of these to be in alignment with gender role behaviors that are stereotypically associated with sex assigned at birth.

The group say GICE are not supported by empirical evidence as effective practices for changing gender identity and are associated with psychological and social harm. Citing a wide range of research the experts say  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 experience such as emotional distress, loss of relationships, and low self-worth.

The report outlines how research has shown that people who have experienced gender identity change efforts experience higher levels of suicide ideation, and the practice has not been shown to alleviate or resolve gender dysphoria. It can also reduce the chances of a person engaging with appropriate mental health counselling and cause undue stress and suffering.

The American Psychological Association (APA) cites research that shows that the practice can lead to increased depression, deteriorated family relationships, substance abuse and post-traumatic stress. They endorse a gender-affirming model of treatment and highlight that many transgender and non-binary people live satisfying lives and have healthy relationships.

APA President Jennifer F. Kelly, PhD said there was a growing body of research in this area.

“There is a growing body of research that shows that transgender or nonbinary gender identities are normal variations in human expression of gender,” Kelly said “Attempts to force people to conform with rigid gender identities can be harmful to their mental health and well-being.”

Alongside the new statement relating to efforts to change a person’s gender identity, the organisation has also updated their guidance about conversion therapy as it relates to attempts to change a person’s sexuality.

The organisation first came out against conversion therapy practices in 1997 and updated their guidance in 2012. Now nearly a quarter of a century after they first raised the alarm, the APA says there’s no doubt that attempts to change a person’s sexuality is harmful.

Graeme Watson

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