APS Statement


Australian Psychological Society

Position Statement on the Use of Therapies that Attempt to Change Sexual Orientation
In the past, defining homosexuality as an illness buttressed society's dislike for same-sex relationships. In the current social climate, claiming homosexuality is a mental disorder stems from efforts to discredit the growing social acceptance of homosexuality as a normal variant of human sexuality. Consequently, the issue of changing sexual orientation has become highly politicised. The debates surrounding this issue have obscured the scientific data by calling into question the motives and the character of individuals on both sides of the issue.

The validity, efficacy and ethics of clinical attempts to change an individual’s sexual orientation have been challenged. To date, there are no scientifically rigorous outcome studies to determine either the actual efficacy or harm of therapies or treatments that attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation. There are sparse scientific data about selection criteria, risks versus benefits of the treatment, and long-term outcomes of such therapies. The literature consists of anecdotal reports of individuals who have claimed to change, people who claim that attempts to change were harmful to them, and others who claimed to have changed and then later recanted those claims.

With little data about patients, it is impossible to evaluate the theories, which rationalise the conduct of ‘reparative’ or conversion therapies. Firstly, they are at odds with the scientific position of the American Psychiatric Association, which has maintained, since 1973, that homosexuality per se is not a mental disorder. The theories of ‘reparative’ therapists define homosexuality as either a developmental arrest, a severe form of psychopathology, or some combination of both. In recent years, noted practitioners of ‘reparative therapy’ have openly integrated older psychoanalytic theories that pathologise homosexuality with traditional religious beliefs condemning homosexuality.

The earliest scientific criticisms of the early theories and religious beliefs informing ‘reparative’ or conversion therapies came primarily from sexology researchers. Later, criticisms emerged from psychoanalytic sources as well. There has also been an increasing body of religious thought arguing against traditional, biblical interpretations that condemn homosexuality and which underlie religious types of ‘reparative’ therapy.

1. APS supports the APA 1973 position that homosexuality is not a diagnosable mental disorder.
2. As a general principle, a therapist should not determine the goal of treatment either coercively or through subtle influence. Psychotherapeutic modalities to convert or ‘repair’ homosexuality are based on developmental theories the scientific validity of which is questionable. Furthermore, anecdotal reports of ‘cures’ are counterbalanced by anecdotal claims of psychological harm. ‘Reparative’ therapists have not produced any rigorous scientific research to substantiate their claims of cure. Until there is such research available, APS recommends that ethical practitioners refrain from attempts to change individuals’ sexual orientation.
3. The ‘reparative’ therapy literature uses theories that make it difficult to formulate scientific selection criteria for their treatment modality. This literature not only ignores the impact of social stigma in motivating efforts to cure homosexuality, it is a literature that actively stigmatises homosexuality as well. ‘Reparative’ therapy literature also tends to overstate the treatment’s accomplishments while neglecting any potential risks to patients. APS encourages and supports research in the academic research community to determine further the efficacy or otherwise of therapies or treatments that attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation.

June 2000
(Based on the APA Statement, March 2000)