We fell for the ‘conversion therapy’ lie. No other family should be given the chance

Opinion: This pseudoscience, rejected by every notable professional medical association, brought our son to the brink of suicide and almost tore our family apart.

Glen Traasdahl opinion contributor

Feb. 27 2021 on AZCentral

No parent wants to harm their child, but in trying to help our son, that’s exactly what my wife and I did. We took our 13-year-old to “reparative therapy,” also known as “conversion therapy,” with a promise that it could “cure” his same-sex attraction.

This pseudoscience brought him to the brink of suicide and almost tore our family apart.

The Legislature must ban conversion therapy to protect children and families. Instead, the Senate is inexplicably considering a bill by Sen. Vince Leach that would prohibit the state or any of its municipalities from banning conversion therapy, despite decades of evidence that it harms patients.

37 therapists practice in Arizona

Conversion therapies claim they can “fix” people with same-sex attraction. The approach assumes the child is somehow broken and needs fixing.

Supporters also sell it as a legitimate practice, despite the fact that every prominent professional medical association, including the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, consider it harmful and unethical.

Of the more than 700,000 Americans who have experienced this harmful practice, about half were under 18. According to a peer-reviewed study by The Trevor Project, LGBTQ youth who underwent conversion therapy were more than twice as likely to report having attempted suicide and more than 2.5 times as likely to report multiple suicide attempts in the past year.

In Arizona, BornPerfect.org identified 37 active individual therapists and seven groups practicing conversion therapy.

We had no idea the pain it would cause

Our own nightmare began when our son told us he was experiencing same-sex attraction. He didn’t understand his feelings. He wanted to be like his other friends. He was very religious then, and sincerely wanted to live within the lifestyle expectations of our church’s teachings. As parents, we were concerned and confused.

As devout members of our church, we sought the trusted counsel of our religious leaders. We were referred to a private, for-profit counseling office that claimed “reparative therapy will fix it.”

We found assurance in knowing that our son would be working with licensed therapists, naïvely assuming this meant they were engaging in valid therapeutic practices. We had no idea our decision would lead to so much pain and suffering for our family, especially our son.

Their talk therapy was rooted in blame and debunked theories of “dominant mothers,” “detached fathers,” and boys who didn’t play enough sports or do “manly things.”

Our son knew he was gay

Any approach to therapy that includes “fixing” someone, assumes that this person is somehow broken. This had to be someone’s fault, and that someone was my wife and I, who they said perpetuated our son’s attractions.

This tore at the fabric of our family for years. It didn’t work because it doesn’t work.

Despite our son desperately wanting to change, to fit in to the culture of our church, to be “normal,” this therapy drove him further from the wonderful boy we had always known. After years of effort, he still knew he was gay.

But it was almost too late to save him. These therapists told him for years that he was broken, that he had betrayed his family and his beliefs. He would rather die than be who he really was.

How can Arizona permit licensed professionals to inflict these harmful therapies, particularly on children? How can the state condone their actions as they continue to prey upon individuals and families, especially families of faith more inclined to seek it?

This isn’t about free speech. Words hurt

Supporters say conversion therapy is just speech, and speech must be protected. This is untrue for licensed practitioners. Of course speech causes lasting harm and abuse. No one ever laid a hand on my son. Their words alone brought him to the brink of suicide.

Our family is healing from that experience more than a decade ago. We accept our son entirely and he doesn’t need to fight such a vital aspect of his core identity. By accepting his sexual orientation, he is happy and thriving. But our experience, like so many others, could have easily ended in tragedy.

Arizona licenses professionals in order to protect people from harmful, fraudulent practices. The state must act to stop licensed therapists from perpetuating this fraud and abuse on any more of Arizona’s children and families.

Glen Traasdahl is director of customer contact operations at Salt River Project. He and his wife have four children. Reach him at g.trsdahl@gmail.com

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