Can therapy change sexual orientation?

No. Even though homosexual orientation is not a mental illness and there is no scientific reason to attempt conversion of lesbians or gays to heterosexual orientation, some individuals may seek to change their own sexual orientation or that of another individual (for example, parents seeking therapy for their child). Some therapists who undertake this kind of therapy report that they have changed their client’s sexual orientation (from homosexual to heterosexual) in treatment. Close scrutiny of their reports indicates several factors that cast doubt: many of the claims come from organizations with an ideological perspective on sexual orientation, rather than from mental health researchers; the treatments and their outcomes are poorly documented; and the length of time that clients are followed up after the treatment is too short.

In 1990, the American Psychological Association stated that scientific evidence does not show that conversion therapy works and that it can do more harm than good. Changing one’s sexual orientation is not simply a matter of changing one’s sexual behavior. It would require altering one’s emotional, romantic and sexual feelings and restructuring one’s self-concept and social identity. Although some mental health providers do attempt sexual orientation conversion, others question the ethics of trying to alter through therapy a trait that is not a disorder and that is extremely important to an individual’s identity.

Not all gays and lesbians who seek therapy want to change their sexual orientation. Gays and lesbians may seek counseling for any of the same reasons as anyone else. In addition, they may seed psychological help to ‘come out’ or to deal with prejudice, discrimination and violence.

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