Virginia Regulatory Town Hall
Department of Health Professions
Board of Counseling
Regulations Governing the Practice of Professional Counseling [18 VAC 115 ‑ 20]
Action Unprofessional conduct - conversion therapy
Comment Period Ends 8/7/2019
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7/9/19  3:12 pm
Commenter: Aiden Barnes, Southeastern Virginia Atheists, Skeptics, & Humanists

Support for the NOIRA regarding regulation 18VAC140-20, on the Practice of Conversion Therapy

The Southeastern Virginia Atheists, Skeptics, & Humanists (SEVASH) are pleased to support the NOIRA regarding regulation 18VAC140-20, which would protect youth under the age of 18 from so-called “conversion therapy” at the hands of licensed social workers in Virginia.

Conversion therapy, sometimes referred to as “reparative therapy,” “ex-gay therapy,” or “sexual orientation change efforts,” is a set of practices by mental health providers that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity. This includes efforts to change behaviors or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex. Conversion therapy does not include psychotherapy that aims to provide acceptance, support, and understanding of clients or the facilitation of clients’ coping, social support, and identity exploration and development, including sexual orientation-neutral interventions to prevent or address unlawful conduct or unsafe sexual practices. Nor does it include counseling for a person seeking to transition from one gender to another.

There is no credible evidence that any type of psychotherapy can change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. In fact, conversion therapy poses critical health risks to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer young people, including depression, shame, decreased self-esteem, social withdrawal, substance abuse, risky behavior, and even suicide. Nearly all the nation’s leading mental health associations, including the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Counseling Association, the National Association of Social Workers, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy have examined conversion therapy and issued cautionary position statements on these practices.

Research shows that lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) youth are 4 times more likely, and questioning youth are 3 times more likely to attempt suicide as their straight peers. Nearly half of young transgender people have seriously thought about taking their lives and one quarter report having made a suicide attempt. Young people who experience family rejection based on their sexual orientation, including being subjected to conversion therapy, face especially serious health risks.

The Trevor Project’s 2019 National Survey on LGBTQ Mental Health, a cross-sectional national survey of LGBTQ youth across the United States, surveyed over 34,000 respondents, making it is the largest survey of LGBTQ youth mental health ever conducted. This survey found that five percent of LGBTQ youth reported being subjected to conversion therapy (with approximately 2/3rds of LGBTQ youth reporting experiencing some effort to change their sexual orientation or gender identity). Given the frequency with which youth will not know to identify their experience of such pressure coming from a licensed professional as "conversion therapy," that five percent number should be viewed as a floor. The same survey found42percentof LGBTQ youth who underwent conversion therapy reported a suicide attempt in the past year. These individuals reported attempting suicide in the past 12 months more than twice the rate of their LGBTQ peers who did not report undergoing conversion therapy. 57percentof transgender and non-binary youth who have undergone conversion therapy reported a suicide attempt in the last year.

These findings echo that of a recent study by Caitlyn Ryan of the Family Acceptance Project. Research reveals that LGB young adults who report higher levels of family rejection during adolescence are 8.4 times more likely to report having attempted suicide, 5.9 times more likely to report high levels of depression, 3.4 times more likely to use illegal drugs, and 3.4 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.

Existing law provides for licensing and regulation of various mental health professionals, including physicians and surgeons, psychologists, marriage and family therapists, clinical social workers, and licensed professional counselors.

This regulation would prevent licensed mental health providers in Virginia from performing conversion therapy with a patient under 18 years of age, regardless of the willingness of a parent or guardian to authorize such efforts. The regulation will curb harmful practices known to produce lifelong damage to those who are subjected to them and help ensure the health and safety of LGBTQ youth. We thank you for proposing this important regulation.

CommentID: 73256