In this ground-breaking report, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) highlights the importance of ending so-called “conversion therapy” that purports to change one’s sexual orientation or gender identity and expression, especially among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth.  The report provides an in-depth review of research and clinical expertise related to conversion therapy.  This important new resource makes it clear that conversion therapy is not an appropriate therapeutic approach based on the evidence, and explores alternative ways to discuss sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression with young people.

The report includes the first publication of consensus statements developed by an expert panel held by the American Psychological Association in July 2015.  The expert panel included researchers and practitioners in child and adolescent mental health with a strong background in gender development, gender identity, and sexual orientation in children and adolescents.  Experts with a background in family therapy, ethics, and the psychology of religion also participated. Through a collaborative process, the panel found that variations in sexual orientation and gender identity are normal, and that conversion therapies or other efforts to change sexual orientation or gender identity are not effective, are harmful, and are not appropriate therapeutic practices.

The report reaffirms the positions of the American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, National Association of Social Workers, American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, and other medical and mental health professional associations that interventions aimed at a fixed outcome, such as gender conformity or heterosexual orientation, including those aimed at changing gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation are coercive, can be harmful, and should not be part of behavioral health treatment.

The publication of the SAMHSA report follows President Barack Obama’s statement in April 2015 calling for an end to such therapies.  The report also provides information and resources to help mental health providers, families, and caregivers support their LGBTQ and gender non-conforming children and adolescents.

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Four states (California, Illinois, New Jersey, and Oregon) and the District of Columbia have enacted legislation prohibiting mental health professionals licensed in their states to conduct such so-called conversion therapies, with legislation introduced in 21 other states.  The National Center for Lesbian Rights has been monitoring and supporting those legislative efforts.  Several bills and resolutions also have been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.  This report from the federal government’s mental health agency will add considerable credibility to these efforts to end the practice of such harmful therapies.

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