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Today, while some counselors still use physical treatments like aversive conditioning, the techniques most commonly used include a variety of behavioral, cognitive, psychoanalytic, and other practices that try to change or reduce same-sex attraction or alter a person’s gender identity.

While these contemporary versions of conversion therapy are less shocking and extreme than some of those more frequently used in the past, they are equally devoid of scientific validity and pose serious dangers to patients—especially to minors, who are often forced to undergo them by their parents or legal guardians, and who are at especially high risk of being harmed.

In 2012, California became the first state to protect LGBT youth from dangerous and scientifically discredited efforts by state-licensed therapists to change their sexual orientation or gender identity.

This law (Senate Bill 1172) prohibits therapists who are licensed by the State of California from trying to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of people under 18.

In one highly publicized case from the early 1970s, psychologist George Rekers treated a five-year-old boy named Kirk Murphy, who had exhibited stereotypically feminine behavior such as a preference for girls’ toys.

Rekers instructed Murphy’s parents to reward him for exhibiting “masculine” behavior and to punish him (by ignoring or even spanking him) when he displayed “feminine” behavior.

In 2009, the American Psychological Association conducted a comprehensive review of the published literature on these practices and concluded that they are not supported by any reliable evidence.

Research shows that lesbian, gay, and bisexual young adults who reported higher levels of family rejection during adolescence were more than eight times more likely to report having attempted suicide, more than five times more likely to report high levels of depression, more than three times more likely to use illegal drugs, and more than three times more likely to report having engaged in unprotected sexual intercourse compared with peers from families that reported no or low levels of family rejection.

Laws passed in California, New Jersey, Washington, D.

C., Oregon, Illinois, and Vermont, as well as bills introduced in many other states, prohibit state-licensed mental health professionals from engaging in efforts to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of a young person under 18 years of age.

These groups have cautioned that the practices do not work and have warned patients that they may be harmful.

For example, the American Psychological Association “advises parents, guardians, young people, and their families to avoid sexual orientation change efforts that portray homosexuality as a mental illness or developmental disorder and to seek psychotherapy, social support, and educational services that provide accurate information on sexual orientation and sexuality, increase family and school support, and reduce rejection of sexual minority youth.” The American Psychiatric Association “opposes any psychiatric treatment such as reparative or conversion therapy which is based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon the a priori assumption that a patient should change his/her sexual homosexual orientation.” The American Academy of Pediatrics has stated: “Therapy directed at specifically changing sexual orientation is contraindicated, since it can provoke guilt and anxiety while having little or no potential for achieving changes in orientation.” The Pan American Health Organization, a regional office of the World Health Organization, has stated that these practices “lack medical justification and represent a serious threat to the health and well-being of affected people.” No.

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