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Prejudice couched in pseudoscience

Updated on February 21, 2016

It's rather worrying that the Maltese Curia has felt the need to publish a position paper on the new law banning “gay conversion therapy,” which one might have assumed, did not affect the church.

But publish it did. In that position paper, to almost universal condemnation, the writer twists the logic behind a well-meaning bid by the legislator into an attack on the very values of inclusivity which the legislator is trying to protect.

But what is, quite frankly, diabolical is the Maltese Church's apparent willingness to disregard the masses of scientific evidence showing that this type of “therapy” actually causes harm and instead couch its statement in pseudoscience and legal obfuscation.

“The Bill takes away from the client the power to set the goals with the therapist in the former’s best interest and criminalises any deviation from what it decrees,” reads the position paper, possibly because the writer misses the whole point behind the Bill, which is “to affirm and protect these characteristics of a person.”

“It also demonstrates “a disrespect for personal autonomy to exercise one’s own lawful rights rather than the defense of human dignity, distrust in the accountability of the professional bodies rather than the protection of their independence.”

In case you were confused, they're talking about the Bill here, not the practise of trying to convince perfectly normal people that they suffer from a condition that manifests itself in “gravely disordered acts.”


What the experts say

The British Psychological Society, amongst other respected professional bodies, has condemned the practice of “gay conversion therapy”, which it defines as “an umbrella term for a type of talking therapy or activity which attempts to change sexual orientation or reduce attraction to others of the same sex.”

“There is no good evidence this works and we believe it has the potential to cause harm. Often these approaches are based on religious interpretations about sexuality rather than on a researched and informed understanding of sexual orientation,” reads a consensus statement issued by the UK Council for Psychiatry, the British Psychoanalytic Council, the Royal Council of Psychiatrists, the British Association for Counselling and Psychology, the British Psychological Society, Pink Therapy, the National Counselling Society and gay rights NGO Stonewall in 2014.

“Historically many psychological professionals saw homosexuality as a form of arrested sexual development. Up until 1973 the American Psychiatric Association1 classified homosexuality as a mental illness. It was not until 1990 that the World Health Organisation declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder. Though homosexuality is no longer considered a mental illness in healthcare professions, the legacy of this association continues to have an impact. In this context, some people still seek and inappropriately offer ‘cures’ and ‘treatments’ for homosexuality as if it were an illness.”

The UK Council for Psychotherapy has stated that it is exploitative for a psychotherapist to offer treatment that might ‘cure’ or ‘reduce’ same sex attraction “as to do so would be offering a treatment for which there is no illness.”

The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy adds to this, saying that “there is no scientific, rational or ethical reason to treat people who identify within a range of human sexualities any differently from those who identify solely as heterosexual.”

Guidelines published by the British Psychological Society say that “as same-sex sexual orientations… are not diagnosable illnesses, they do not require any therapeutic interventions to change them.”

“The Royal College of Psychiatrists condemned the practise, saying that “there is no sound scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be changed. Furthermore, so-called treatments of homosexuality create a setting in which prejudice and discrimination flourish.”

Randomised controlled trials, the scientific gold standard for assessing the effectiveness of treatments, do not exist for conversion therapies, reports the BPS, adding that oral history studies of people who underwent treatments (such as aversion therapy) for homosexuality in the 1970s and 1980s “also show there is a potential for harm.”

I'll give the last word to Pope Francis I, the current leader of the Catholic Church, who in a 2013 interview had said that “a person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person.”


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