Kate EmeryThe West Australian

Mental health experts and gay rights activists have warned against organisations that claim they can treat or cure homosexuality, saying they may be psychologically damaging, especially for youths.

Dubbed the “ex-gay” movement, church groups in Perth and other Australian cities offer counselling for people “struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction”. In extreme cases, they say they can convert people from homosexuality to heterosexuality.

These groups include Courage, Living Waters, Liberty Christian Ministries, Homosexuals Anonymous, Exodus and Perth’s Victory Life Centre.

Leading mental health body the Australian Psychological Society does not endorse therapy to change sexuality, saying it has no scientific basis.

“You could always, unfortunately, find a mental health practitioner who might help someone change their orientation but most people would know that’s unethical . . . let alone it being effective,” Damien Riggs, from the APS gay and lesbian issues and psychology interest group, said.

Scott Tetley believes he lost a decade to depression and self-hatred because of counselling at a defunct Perth church program when psychologists told him to go to movies when he thought of men.

“They said I needed to rewire my brain and only God and His word could do that,” he said.

Ambassadors and Bridge Builders International founder Anthony Venn-Brown had years of ex-gay treatment. “These organisations create enormous damage for people,” he said.

Most of the groups said their focus was to support people struggling to reconcile their faith and sexuality, not to convert people.

Living Waters director Ron Brookman, who was gay for years before fathering five children, said the Sydney-based ministry offered support, not pressure.

“We wouldn’t see ourselves as an ex-gay ministry, though certainly we help people who want to come out of homosexuality,” he said.

Andrew Beel, a former ex-gay ministry leader no longer linked to a ministry, said people unhappy with their sexual orientation had a right to opportunities for therapy, support and counselling.