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Conversion Pressure or Love and Acceptance?

The New Zealand Association of Psychotherapists support the call of Rainbow Youth and others for the banning of conversion therapy in Aotearoa.

NZAP member Paul Wilson says: “Conversion therapy is ineffective and harmful to LGBTQI youth who experience it, often increasing their symptoms of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.”

“For LGBTQI people who are experiencing confusion or distress about their sexuality, I would suggest gay-affirmative therapy which aims to reduce the shame and fear that can come from living in a hostile environment and which focuses on fostering self-acceptance and well-being.” Wilson adds.

“Our best defence against being traumatised by an experience is a secure attachment relationship in which to process it. That is why I believe conversion ‘therapy’ is so deeply damaging to the youth who go through it since they are already estranged from their parents due to their non-acceptance of their orientation.” Said Wilson.

The 2009 American Psychiatrists Association study executive summary revealed that conversion therapy is largely ineffective at changing sexual orientation and potentially harmful in terms of increasing depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and suicidality in youth who undergo them, often at parental insistence.

“It is already against the code of ethics of New Zealand psychotherapists to offer or conduct such therapy.” Said NZAP spokesperson Lynne Holdem.

“Since it is practised mainly by fundamentalist Christian groups, rather than qualified therapists, perhaps it would be more truthful to refer to it as Conversion Pressure or Conversion Indoctrination.” Said Holdem.

“Many patients who have undergone reparative therapy relate that they were inaccurately told that homosexuals are lonely, unhappy individuals who never achieve acceptance or satisfaction. The possibility that the person might achieve happiness and satisfying interpersonal relationships as a gay man or lesbian is not presented, nor are alternative approaches to dealing with the effects of societal stigmatization discussed.” Holdem says.

When a young person is confused about sexual feelings or experiencing distress from same sex attraction in a social milieu that invalidates or stigmatises LBGTQI it could be helpful for them to speak to a gay affirming psychotherapist. Said Holdem

Psychotherapy provides a conversation which can help a young person to understand and accept their conflicting desires and loyalties, identify their values and make safe and life affirming choices for themselves. Psychotherapists also offer opportunities to reflect on self and develop an ability to view relationships from others perspectives as well as our own. This can be helpful when a young person is thinking about their readiness to come out to family and friends, how to protect themselves while having those conversations and anticipate the risks or relief that might follow from them.

Other helpful interventions for adolescents who are experiencing same sex attraction is to offer literature that explores sexuality issues. The Guardian has good suggestions at Or films:

“We all, from cradle to grave, need relationships which validate who we are and who we are becoming. Having the courage, or encouragement, to find and join a peer support group for LGBTQI so experiences can be mirrored and affirmed by others might be a true life-saver for someone coming to terms with being LGBTQI. A slightly older mentor from LGBTQI community can also provide a role model of being successful and happy and LGBTQI.” Holdem said.

“It is not generally recognised how much LGBTQI people have contributed to our culture and societies through art, sports, science, literature and music and politics. To see ahead a path to success and positive contribution to the world in which we live is a motivating factor for resilience for all young people but especially important for those that fly the Rainbow flag.” She added.
Lynne Holdem
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