The well-intentioned parents (let’s be charitable) who subject their children to Pray The Gay Away therapy, like their anti-vaxxer counterparts, are misguided, misinformed, and are making decisions that are detrimental to the well-being of their children.
Someone had to say it.
As a minarchist, I, on principle, oppose current and recently, successful efforts to ban reparative or conversion therapy for those under 18 (e.g. California and New Jersey). I am also opposed to state-licensing. But given the current paradigm of state licensing, which will not be dismantled anytime soon, conversion therapy has no place in medicine or psychiatry.
Yes, these bans do undermine parents’ liberty to seek out resources that they deem beneficial to their child or raise them as they see fit. And, presumably, the bans ultimately limit choices for teens and acutely self-aware children who may desire this route for themselves—even it if fails. But such programs paradigmatically treat homosexuality as an illness, exacerbate negative self-image and high-risk behaviors, and, most importantly, are devoid of scientific backing.
There is nothing wrong with allowing an Evangelical, Jewish-Orthodox, or Muslim teen to explore ways in which they can reconcile their faith with their sexual orientation. A struggling teen may recant their faith, sublimate same-sex attraction, or find some wiggle room in which they can live authentically, faith unshaken (quite a feat, I imagine). Those decisions may or may not be helped by reparative therapy, but the benefits of such a “treatment” are paltry to non-existent. Introspection, interspersed with the support of family, friends, or faith community, is likely the decisive factor—and is the optimal route.
Better safe than sorry to assume that a struggling teen (let alone a pre-pubescent child) seldom chooses to undergo reparative therapy (e.g. without any coaxing or punitive pressure from their families). I cannot find any statistics that track how many teens opt for the therapy versus how many are compelled to do so. So take the anecdotal evidence for what it’s worth.
Parents may insist that it is their right to seek particular forms of treatment, namely conversion therapy. Outside the paradigm of state intervention, I think families should be able to pursue them as an alternative—however scientifically lacking and deleterious they are.
But right now the state is in the business of regulating psychiatric practice and is in the position to reinforce ethical and scientifically sound standards—of which reparative treatment has none. If states are going to regulate psychiatry, they should regulate it correctly.
Echoing NHS health minister, Norman Lamb, reparative therapy has no place in modern science or modern society. We should not curb the rights of parents who are sincerely invested in the well being of their children (again, being charitable) or the rights of youth who pursue this option out of their own volition. And such practices should be able subside on their own. But the current state of affairs allows for neither.