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May 1, 2012 Print

Dig Deeper: Shutting Down Therapy for Unwanted Homosexuality

by Jeff Johnston

Note: the content in this commentary is adult in theme and not suitable for children.

California has a truly awful bill wending its way through the legislature. SB 1172 – Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE) would prohibit mental health professionals “from performing sexual orientation change efforts…in the absence of informed consent of the patient.” The bill includes a specific statement that must be part of the consent form, listing the ways that SOCE “damages” people. In addition, it bans SOCE with any client under the age of 18.(1)

I am passionate about stopping the harm that would come from this bill; in this case, the political is also personal. 25 years ago I was living in California and looking for help with same-sex attractions. My motivation wasn’t self-hatred or pressure from a “hetero-normative” society. I believed what the Bible says and the church teaches: God made sexual expression for marriage between a man and a woman. I knew there were grave health risks to homosexual sex, and I wanted a family.

Counseling was a huge help to me on my journey out of homosexuality; now I’m happily married, with three terrific sons. My marriage and children would not exist without the help and support of Christian therapists. Now Senator Ted Lieu, the sponsor of SB 1172, and the California legislature are working to stop people like me from receiving help. Certainly there were other things that helped me grow and change – books, conferences, support groups, Christian friends and God’s work in my life. Perhaps the legislature will attempt to ban these next.

SB 1172 infringes on people’s ability to seek treatment for unwanted same-sex attractions. Here are some of the issues involved: 

  1. Mental health professions consistently note that practitioners must respect client autonomy and self-determination – people’s right to control their own lives and therapeutic choices. This bill flatly tramples these and says, “The state knows what’s best for you.” 
  2. Mental health groups have also become more aware of the role of religion and faith in people’s lives. A Christian with same-sex attractions and biblical beliefs would be told, “Trying to change may damage you, so don’t pursue it.” And Christian minors with unwanted same-sex attractions would be completely denied the right to pursue change under this law – regardless of parental support to do so. So much for religious freedom.
  3.  The bill squashes parental rights. Parents have a God-given right to provide appropriate help and resources for their children struggling with unwanted homosexuality. Under this bill, counseling help would be denied to parents and their children.
  4. Psychiatrists, psychologists, marriage and family therapists, social workers and other counselors have national and state boards that set standards for education, licensing, ethics and client care. These groups have regular channels for dealing with therapists charged with ethics violations. Basically, SB 1172 sweeps all this aside and puts the California legislators in control of how mental health professionals may deal with people with unwanted homosexuality.

 SB 1172 would lead to great damage for many people. The bill defines SOCE as “psychotherapy aimed at altering the sexual or romantic desires, attractions, or conduct of a person toward people of the same sex so that the desire, attraction, or conduct is eliminated or reduced or might instead be directed toward people of a different sex.” Check out a few examples about the harm this could cause:

  • Imagine a man seeking counseling for unwanted same-sex conduct. He could be engaged in extremely risky, life-threatening or even illegal behaviors, such as anonymous sex, sado-masochism, public sexual activity or sex with multiple partners. Not all of them identify as homosexual. That counselor would have to tell this man, “I’m sorry, but therapy to stop having sex with men you don’t know might harm you.”
  • Some men begin these activities as minors. According to this bill, a counselor could not help a teen alter his sexual conduct toward people of the same sex – even if it was life-threatening.
  • Think of a priest with a counseling license leading a support group for people with unwanted homosexuality. A woman comes to the group; she’s just become a Christian and is wrestling with what the Bible says about her lesbian relationship. He would have to warn her that trying to live a chaste life could damage her.
  • A church might have a pastor who is also a marriage and family therapist, and a teen boy caught up in homosexual pornography comes to him for help. As a licensed counselor, he could not legally help the boy stop his pornography addiction. After all, doing so change his attractions or conduct toward people of the same sex.

 SB 1172 dismisses a mental health client’s autonomy, religious beliefs and right to self-determination. It could lead to a great deal of harm by denying people the help they need. The bill is an offense against freedom of speech, association and religion.

 


(1) The bill asserts that homosexuality is immutable and that attempts to change are harmful. Dr. Stanton L. Jones, Provost and Professor of psychology at Wheaton College, addresses these false beliefs in his article, “Sexual Orientation and Reason: On the Implications of False Beliefs about Homosexuality.” See especially pp. 12-15 of the PDF, downloadable here: http://www.wheaton.edu/CACE/Hot-Topics

 



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