We recently discovered that young people in Pennsylvania are still undergoing conversion treatment for their gender identity and/or sexual orientation. When we also learned that some of the people providing the treatment were licensed by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, we were more than disturbed.
Conversion therapy is a pseudo-scientific treatment based on the assumption that a homosexual or transgender person is mentally ill and can be converted to heterosexual or cisgender. This is especially problematic for minors in some Pennsylvania counties, as adults have the power to compel them into conversion treatment.
All major medical and educational associations strongly oppose the practice of conversion treatments on minors. The practice lacks scientific credibility, is unethical, and operates on the mistaken belief that being LGBTQ is a disorder that requires treatment. These organizations include, but are not limited to, the American Medical Association, American Psychological Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, National Education Association, and National Association of Social Workers.
We know the link between conversion therapy and suicidality is real. In 2021, more than 5,000 young Pennsylvanians contacted the Trevor Project crisis hotline. An estimated 500,000 LGBTQ youth in the United States were at risk of undergoing conversion treatment last year. Additionally, a new peer-reviewed study last month in JAMA Pediatrics found that the practice of conversion therapy on LGBTQ youth, and its associated harms, costs the United States an estimated $9.23 billion a year. . The full article, “Humanistic and Economic Burden of Conversion Therapy on LGBTQ Youth in the United States: A Systematic Literature Review and Economic Evaluation,” can be found here.
Conversion treatment is prohibited in 20 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, as well as in more than 100 municipalities. In Pennsylvania, Allegheny County, as well as Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Allentown, Reading, Scranton, State College, Yardley, Bellefonte, Bethlehem, Erie, Scranton, Newtown, and Middletown Township have all banned conversion treatment.
As therapists, counselors, and trusted counselors to LGBTQ youth, we advocate for their mental health and are passionate about protecting LGBTQ youth from this dangerous practice. Youth undergoing conversion treatment reported more than twice the rate of suicide attempts compared to those who did not. This so-called “therapy” poses critical health risks for LGBTQ minors, such as increased risks of depression, suicidality and substance abuse.
As professionals, we are troubled by the presence of practitioners carrying out conversion treatments on young LGBTQ+ people in the Commonwealth. We call for an end to fraudulent and harmful behavior inflicted by adults. Well-intentioned or not, the treatment does not work. Most importantly, all practitioners in our respected fields must uphold the ethical standards of the profession and uphold these standards of care. We are offended to know that peers violate these standards, which casts doubt on the validity of all our work.
As leaders of our respective national organizations [representing respectfully 3,400psychologists and 4,100 professional social workers within the Commonwealth], we believe that the conversion treatment tarnishes the meaning of our professional licenses to the public. As the voice of our professional associations and members, we say our license to practice is a call to do no harm first. We believe that the scientifically backed thing, the right thing, the ethical thing, and the only practical thing is to end the practice of this “treatment” immediately.
Categorically, there should be no conversion therapy or treatment options for young people in Pennsylvania, including under the banner of our Pennsylvania licenses.
We call on the Pennsylvania General Assembly and/or Executive Branch to ensure that the practice of so-called conversion therapy with minors is prohibited throughout the Commonwealth.
Johanna G. Byrd, ACSW, IOM, CAE, Executive Director, National Association of Social Workers – Pennsylvania Chapter (NASW-PA)
Kristie Jo King, LSW, CDP, President, National Association of Social Workers, Pennsylvania Chapter (NASW-PA)
Molly Cowan, PsyD, Director of Professional Affairs, Pennsylvania Psychological Association
Bradley C. Norford, PhD, President, Pennsylvania Psychological Association