Bill to ban conversion therapy poses problems for therapists

The Irish Times 9 August 2021
The term “conversion therapy” should send a shiver up the spine of any decent person. As originally practised, it attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation from gay to straight by means such as aversion therapy.

This included punishing “undesirable” sexual behaviour with painful and demeaning treatment such as electric shocks, starvation or, in extreme circumstances, “corrective rape”. It is an utterly abhorrent practice, now thankfully outlawed by all reputable psychotherapy bodies and, in Ireland, very rare.

Over the years there have been a few reports of attempted conversion by faith-based groups but it is not something that has been in the news for a long time. So while there is no evidence of conversion therapy currently happening in the Republic, there is certainly no harm in the Government’s plan to ban it.

The programme for government commits to legislation for the ban, and officials at the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth have now prepared a scoping paper on the issue and are currently liaising with the Department of Health to forward proposals.

Gender dysphoria may have many underlying causes not necessarily related to being transgender. If we explore this, will therapists be accused of practising conversion therapy?

One option being considered is to support a Bill proposed by Sinn Féin Senator Fintan Warfield to the Seanad in April 2018. The Prohibition of Conversion Therapies Bill 2018 is currently at committee stage which is where it has been since September 2020.

It describes conversion therapy as “any practice or treatment by any person that seeks to change, suppress and/or eliminate a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity and/or gender expression”.

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