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The History and Dangers of Conversion Therapy

By Piper C.

In recent years, conversion therapy and the trauma it has laid out for people of the LGBTQ+ community has become a rising topic amongst younger generations. Conversion therapy is the practice of attempting to convert someone’s sexuality or gender identity to heterosexual and/or cisgender. A huge problem surrounding this ‘treatment’ is that most, if not all, of the people put into conversion therapy do not want to be there: they are forced against their will. A large majority of these people are LGBTQ+ youths sent to these centers by their families. The practice was first established in 1899 by a German psychiatrist who claimed he had turned a gay man straight. In his words, it took 45 hypnosis sessions and several brothel trips to change the man's sexual impulses. Practices with the purpose of conversion similar to this have evolved and began to outgrow mere hypnosis, twisting into surgical experiments and shock therapy - - or even physical/verbal abuse. The more these establishments grew, the more traumatized victims they left behind.

In the 1920s, Eugen Steinach, an Austrian endocrinologist theorized that homosexuality was due to the man’s testicles. This led to multiple testicle transplantation experiments where gay men were castrated and then given “heterosexual testicle.” There is no evidence on whether these experiments were consensual or non-consensual; regardless, its medical involvement only pushed the stigma of homosexuality further into the negative light.

The more “common” harmful physical treatment that has emerged in recent years is electroconvulsive conversion therapy (ECT). ECT is a procedure typically done under general anesthesia while small electric currents pass through the brain. Its goal is to trigger a brief seizure that relieves mental or internal health conditions. Those who suffer from mania, bipolar disorder, and severe depression are a part of the group who can benefit from ECT. The issue was that conversion therapy centers in many cases did not use general anesthesia on their patients when practicing ECT. Additionally, sexuality and gender identity are not actual diseases or illnesses. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) questioned all the members attending the convention on whether or not homosexuality was a mental disorder. 5,854 psychiatrists voted to remove homosexuality from the DSM while 3,810 voted to keep it. Although it was still recognized as a “sexual orientation disturbance,” it fell out of the DSM completely by 1987. In the latest manual, ICD-11, set out by the World Health Organization, it states that being transgender is not a mental health condition. Therefore, these establishments were putting unconsenting individuals under electroconvulsive conversion therapy for no beneficial reasons. ECT performed with no anesthesia can lead to memory loss, fractured bones, and other more serious side effects, such as depression, or even PTSD, due to the pain caused by shock therapy.

Over 700,000 LGBTQ+ people have been subjected to conversion therapy, along with an estimated 80,000 LGBTQ+ youths per year to be subjected to this unethical practice as well. Those admitted to conversion therapy often try to run away or commit suicide, while many survivors dealing with trauma lose a sense of identity as they are plagued with memories of the horrendous lifestyle they were put into. LGBTQ+ youths that are neglected and mistreated are eight times more likely to report attempted suicide and are six times more likely to report high levels of depression. Conversion therapy has always been a contributor to increasing those statistics.

States such as California, New Jersey, and Vermont have protective laws against conversion therapy in place for the LGBTQ+ community. Various organizations also openly speak against conversion therapy, examples being the American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry, American Medical Association, and the American Counseling Association. The LGBTQ+ community and professionals in the medical field are pushing for a full-stop to conversion therapy, which unfortunately still exists in many places around the world. If you also want to join the fight against these unlawful practices, donate to your local LGBTQ+ community center/organizations and be vocal about the issue to keep the wheel spinning.


Blakemore, Erin. “Gay Conversion Therapy’s Disturbing 19th-Century Origins.” History, June 28, 2019,

Burton, Neel M.D. “When Homosexuality Stopped Being a Mental Disorder.” Psychology Today, September 18, 2015,

Pant, Aarushi. “The Impacts of Conversion Therapy on Mental Health.” Letters To Strangers, September 2, 2019,

Porter, Robert. “The Dangers of Conversion Therapy: Statistics, Study, and Controversy.” Betterhelp, November 18, 2019,


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