The government was due to publish a “Conversion Practices” Bill in June but it has been shelved for the time being. However both Conservatives and Labour are still committed to introducing a conversion therapy ban bill, which will probably be done by whichever party wins the general election. (note: the phrases “conversion therapy” and “conversion practices” tend to be used interchangeably)
In May 2023 a group of doctors and therapists who are members of CAN-SG gave evidence to cross party groups of parliamentarians, both MPs and Peers, about the risks of including gender identity in legislation to ban conversion practices, especially for the clinical care of gender questioning children and young people. While we’d heard that clinical services may be excluded, that was not certain, and such measures could be reintroduced in future versions of the bill, depending on the precise wording of the bill.
The interim findings of the Cass Review emphasise concerns with current gender affirmative medical practice and the importance of young people’s access to safe, evidence-based, and effective psychological support. Cass recommended psychological treatments as the main intervention to ameliorate the distress of gender dysphoria in children and young people, and to no longer provide puberty suppressing hormones routinely. The starting point for any legislation must be to support good care.
The term ‘conversion therapy’ originally referred to intrusive practices including aversion therapy intended to alter a person’s sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual. These interventions were cruel and ineffective. They are unethical and rightly no longer practiced in modern healthcare. For a fuller discussion on conversion therapy, including gay conversion therapy, see our FAQ here and this article by David Pilgrim.
Extending the term ‘conversion therapy’ to cover gender identity conflates two completely different concepts. The Government Equality Office research found no good evidence of gender identity conversion clinical practices occurring in the UK. Instead, the calls for a ban on gender identity conversion practices are directed at and would restrict exploratory psychotherapy. Such a ban would make the medical gender affirmative pathway, with irreversible medical and surgical interventions, the only option for gender questioning young people.
Our witnesses are all current or former practicing clinicians who talk about the potential chilling effect of such a ban on the ability of clinicians to explore and support gender questioning children and young people, the vast majority of whom have a wide range of psychological and social problems, or may be autistic, or have an emergent gay sexual orientation.
Here is their evidence:
Dr Az Hakeem Consultant Psychiatrist writes about the importance of exploratory therapy for people with gender dysphoria, the outcome of which may be that they come to accept their body does not need to be altered by physical treatments.
Dr David Bell, former Tavistock governor, and GIDS whistle blower, writes about the harms of gender ideology for children and young people, including putting them on a pathway to irreversible damage, and failing to address their underlying problems.
Dr Bob Withers, psychotherapist, writes about his patients who wish they had had effective psychotherapy before making permanent changes to their bodies.
A GP writes about how important it is that the Conversion Practices Ban bill does not restrict the exploratory conversations GPs can have with their patients.
A GP, who is herself a lesbian, writes about the harmful effect a ban on exploratory therapy could have on young women, and young lesbians in particular.
Professor Sallie Baxendale, consultant clinical neuropsychologist, writes about the teenage brain and how adolescents assess risk and make decisions.
A child psychiatrist working in an NHS Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service, writes of the harm to young people if clinicians are fearful of being accused of conversion therapy. She explains how this is already happening, without any change in the law.
A psychiatrist working in NHS adult services writes about the difficulties of discussing the controversies around treatment of gender dysphoria in professional bodies such as the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the British Medical Association.