Norman Lamb writes … Tackling conversion therapy in the NHS

It may seem hard to imagine, but until 1992 the World Health Organisation classified homosexuality as a form of mental illness. Academic studies have shown an extraordinary prevalence, not too long ago, of therapists seeking to ‘convert’ gay people to become heterosexual – treating people’s sexuality as an illness rather than an inherent part of who they are.

In recent decades, society and the medical professions have fortunately come a long way. Most people now recognise that this as dangerous nonsense.

But there remain a few counsellors who still believe in the “treatment” of homosexuality to combat same-sex attractions.  I said nearly a year ago now that, although there was no evidence to suggest that such practices were taking place in the NHS, I wanted to do all that I could to put an end to them once and for all.

As Liberal Democrats it is incredibly important that we work to create a society which is not only more tolerant and open, but also one in which people are able to access support which helps rather than harms them when they are struggling with issues like their sexual orientation.

Earlier this month I was delighted to be able to help bring together leading organisations across the NHS, medical and psychological professions, to sign up to a new Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy in the UK, making clear that it would be unacceptable for Conversion Therapy to be provided in the NHS.

Professional therapy bodies have strongly welcomed the announcement: Janet Weisz, Chair of the UK Council for Psychotherapy said that it was ‘great to see so many parts of the psychological and medical profession uniting on this key diversity and equality issue.’

The memorandum makes clear that conversion therapy is unethical, and potentially harmful to those receiving it.  Crucially, the memorandum also commits organisations to taking steps to improve the availability of effective support for those struggling with issues related to their sexuality – helping people to accept their sexual orientation and reduce distress.

Those organisations signing up to the Memorandum with responsibility for psychological training have undertaken to make sure that training includes preparation for therapists to have the cultural competence and understanding to work effectively with LGB clients.

This is an important step forwards – and as Liberal Democrats we can be proud that we are working to tackle Conversion Therapy in the UK.

* Norman Lamb is MP for North Norfolk and was Liberal Democrat Minister of State at the Department of Health until May 2015. He now chairs the Science and Technology Select Committee

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  • Lauren Salerno 26th Jan '15 - 5:05pm

    Cough cough splutter has Norman not heard of a recent a suicide? F

  • Lauren Salerno 26th Jan '15 - 5:11pm

    …. Hit submit by accident

    Leelah Alcorn forced to suicide after conversion therapy and by religious fanatics for parents! Was she LGB no was she Trans yes!

    Yet more proof of the dominance of LGB issues and the need to separate Trans from it.

    Norman go back and include Trans

  • Alex Sabine 26th Jan '15 - 5:21pm

    Well said Norman Lamb. Keep up the good work!

  • What Lauren said. There have been further trans suicides since, too.

  • If there’s any doubt as to the harm caused by “conversion therapy,” Bryan Christopher’s memoir, “Hiding from Myself” (on Amazon) provides a compelling and entertaining lens. It should be required reading for all lawmakers or for anyone considering “conversion therapy” for themselves or their kids.

  • Zoe O'connell 26th Jan '15 - 9:34pm

    I second/third the comments by Lauren and Jennie above – whilst any move away from conversion therapy is welcome, this MoU needs to come with a big “don’t forget trans people” disclaimer.

  • Simon McGrath 27th Jan '15 - 8:39am

    does the NHS offer conversion therapy for Trans people ?

  • James Brough 27th Jan '15 - 9:00am

    What Lauren, Jennie and Zoe said.

  • Zoe O'connell 27th Jan '15 - 9:11am

    @Simon: Yes. It’s not, as far as I am aware, part of any official treatment regime but GPs are able to refer people on to NHS-funded therapists practicing trans conversion therapy in just the same way as they are LGB conversion therapy.

  • Simon McGrath 27th Jan '15 - 10:44am

    @Zoe thanks for the clarification.

  • Malcolm Todd 27th Jan '15 - 10:51pm

    How very odd. Norman Lamb says, “although there was no evidence to suggest that such practices were taking place in the NHS, I wanted to do all that I could to put an end to them once and for all.” — which looks like pretty much the definition of gesture politics (a policy to put a stop to something that’s not happening!). Except that it turns out it is happening, just not to the people that the policy is apparently aimed at. Can anyone make sense of this?

  • Alex Sabine 28th Jan '15 - 2:03pm

    Malcolm: If it’s not happening then it would perhaps be fair to characterise this initiative as gesture politics. It sounds like it is a rarity thankfully, but Zoe’s comment suggests that GPs are able to refer people on to NHS-funded therapists practising conversion therapy for both trans and LGB people. On that basis a political response is appropriate, albeit one that takes on board the point made by commenters above that it needs to be modified to include trans people.

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