Why You Should Avoid Reparative Therapy
For people who are coming to accept that they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, there can be a lot of fear. One of the biggest things that you might fear is being rejected by others in your life. This can make this part of your journey scary to travel. Such fear is why many people start to consider finding a reparative therapist. The fear is understandable, but this is one of the most harmful things that you can do at this point in your journey. Here I will discuss why you should avoid reparative therapy.
Reparative therapy, Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE), and Conversion Therapy are all based in the same idea. They believe that heterosexuality and cisgender expression are normal, and homosexuality, bisexuality, and non-cisgender gender expression is abnormal. The organizations that advocate for these approaches are manipulative. They use research that is flawed to back their claims. This can lead to a lot of shame for those who go through this, because they feel like they are failing.
The truth is that shame is what allows this style of therapy to continue. Although there has been progress made for the rights of LGBTQ people, there is still a lot of stigma towards this community. This can lead people who are part of this community to feel isolated and disconnected. For some, this can become so intense, they feel that the only way to change this sense of disconnection is to change who they are.
Others will get into these reparative programs because they have family members who believe that being LGBTQ is “wrong” or “sinful”. However, it’s really nothing more than “being” who you are. Saying that this is wrong means that it’s something that is changeable, which it isn’t. No matter how well meaning family members are, reparative therapy should be avoided at all costs. Instead, there are places to do research to learn that sexual orientation and gender variance aren’t sinful.
Sexual Orientation and Gender are not Changeable
This is some of the oldest thinking in psychology. Even though many of his theories are considered outdated, even Freud said that these things aren’t changeable in a person. Many SOCE programs will say they use psychodynamic therapy approaches. They’ll claim that variance in sexual orientation and gender are based in childhood attachment issues. Although reparative therapists will claim that they have evidence of this, there is no scientific evidence that there are attachment problems in LGBT individuals.
Reparative Therapy is Harmful
Increasing amounts of evidence are showing that reparative therapy is not only harmful, but also traumatic. This also includes a brand that labels itself as “authentic” reparative therapy. These programs work to increase shame, which tells a person that they shouldn’t be who they are.
We all need to be connected. Shame is that part of us that tells us that we aren’t worthy of being connected to others. Suicide rates, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse all increase as shame increases. What every person needs to know is that they are worthy of being loved for who they are. Any therapy that would tell people otherwise is harmful.
Finding self-acceptance is the only option. It doesn’t mean that this is easy for you. Nor does it mean that it’s easy for loved ones. No one can forget all of the lessons that they’ve been taught. Everyone wants to be accepted in their families, communities, churches, and social groups. It shouldn’t be underestimated how difficult it can be to practice self-acceptance, while being parts of groups who don’t accept you. Finding other types of support is critical to help you stay grounded to your own worth.
Sexual Orientation and Gender Expression are not Addictions
When looking for a therapist to help you or a loved with with self-acceptance, you have be cautious. Many programs will not call themselves reparative therapy outright. They will say that they will “accept you,” but the truth is that they will treat who you are like a behavioral problem. This is not the case. Accepting you means letting you sort out who you are, without interjecting judgment.
Instead, you need to find a gay affirming therapist or a trans affirming therapist. Keep in mind that many will say they are “LGBT” affirming, yet they really aren’t trans or gender variance affirming. This is where it’s important for you to get direct and ask if they are affirming. Affirming therapy is about your level of comfort. If you don’t feel comfortable, it means that the person isn’t affirming to you. Know that it’s fine to listen to your gut, and find another professional.
As a Family Member, What Should You Do?
Reparative therapy doesn’t only prey upon LGBT people, it also preys upon their families too. Many people simply don’t understand sexual orientation and gender. They think that they’re doing the right thing by encouraging their loved ones to change the unchangeable. Rather than supporting families to a realistic place of acceptance, they risk shaming and scaring them as well. This inevitably leads to disappointment and frustration in relationships, because it builds unrealistic expectations. This can further deteriorate your family bond.
Family members should do research. They can meet with affirming therapists, won’t shame them for having their fears. Instead, they’ll help them understand that this is a coming out process for them as well. But in time, everyone in the family can appreciate the love and acceptance that every person deserves.
Our therapists who specialize in LGBT Affirming Therapy
Supervisor – Michael Salas