Counselors Demand ACA Not Take Sides on Gay 'Conversion Therapy'

Over 400 mental health professionals and counselors are pressing the American Counseling Association (ACA) for clarity on whether offering clients therapy to rid their homosexual desires would be considered unethical.

"If someone, for moral or religious reasons, prefers not to seek [gay] affirmative counseling, we don't see anything here that would support that counselor," Dr. Warren Throckmorton, associate professor of Psychology at Grove City College in Pennsylvania, told The Christian Post, referring to a recent memorandum by ACA's Ethics Committee.

The committee had suggested in 2006 that "conversion therapy," which the committee defined as changing an individual's sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual, has no legitimate place in counseling and that those who either engage in such counseling or refer clients for this kind of therapy may violate the ACA's ethics rules, as stated by Brian W. Raum, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund.

And in cases where clients persist on pursuing "conversion therapy" counselors are advised to discuss the potential harm of such therapy and to inform clients that the treatment "has no empirical or scientific foundation." Moreover, counselors who offer conversion therapy must also offer referrals to gay, lesbian, and bisexual-affirmative counselors.

"All the guidance is geared toward counselors helping clients affirm a gay identity," Throckmorton commented. "We think this Ethics Committee opinion stigmatizes evangelicals and religious persons who have a view that homosexual behavior should not be affirmed."

Throckmorton, who is past president of the American Mental Health Counselors Association, has written several times to the ACA since the committee released its statement asking whether or not there would be support for counselors who offer therapeutic support to clients who seek to live congruent with their religious views. Although he has received responses from the ACA regarding their official position, he said he has never been given a clear answer.

His latest complaint letter, dated Feb. 13, was co-signed by over 400 other counselors and professionals.

The signers are not seeking ACA's endorsement of reparative or conversion therapy, Throckmorton said, but they're concerned the ACA is taking sides on a religious question and preferring gay affirmative treatment.

"We want clear guidance from the ACA that counselors who work with clients who [want to live consistently with their beliefs] are likewise supported," said the Grove City College professor. "We have many counselors out there helping people reconcile their religious beliefs and sexuality. Oftentimes, they do so in a conservative manner. Are they behaving unethically?"

The signers also argue that the 2006 Ethics Committee opinion violates 1990 ACA policy which states:

"[T]he role of the Association ... is to support the rights of members to hold contrary points of views, to provide forums for developing understanding and consensus building, and to maintain equal status and respect for all members and groups within the organization. Following this philosophy, the Governing Council considers it inappropriate for this body to officially take sides on issues which transcend professional identity and membership affiliation, and which substantially divide our membership, at least until such time that there can be a visible consensus produced among the membership."

Throckmorton and co-signers of his letter are asking for clarification.

"At heart, we believe the Ethics Committee opinion (ECO) is prejudicial toward clients and counselors who hold traditional beliefs and values regarding sexuality," he wrote in the letter. "We do not believe that there is consensus in the world or the profession about what the proper religious stance should be with regard to homosexuality. We believe this opinion asserts a consensus where none exists and in the process stigmatizes clients and counselors who hold different views."

"We want the ACA to simply respect its own policy and not take sides in religious disputes," he further commented.

The signers have requested that the ACA Governing Council void their 2006 opinion.

ACA president Brian S. Canfield plans to send a letter to the ACA Ethics Committee in the next couple of weeks, he said. Once he receives a response from the committee, he will send a formal response letter to Throckmorton.

"I recognize this as an important issue with far-reaching implications for the field of counseling," Canfield told The Christian Post. "As such, this issue will be addressed and I hope appropriately resolved."