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New Report Reveals Alarming Prevalence of Conversion Therapy, With Over 1,300 Active Practitioners Across the U.S.

BY: Nicholas Turton

Nearly half of the identified practitioners (46%) hold active professional licenses as mental health providers

December 12, 2023 — The Trevor Project, the leading suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ young people, released a new report today which sheds light on the alarming and extensive presence of practitioners of so-called conversion “therapy” across the U.S. Conversion “therapy” refers to a range of dangerous, discredited, and unscientific practices that attempt to change one’s LGBTQ+ identity.

The report, It’s Still Happening, is the culmination of rigorous and systematic research that began in 2018 by researchers at The Trevor Project, who are experts in identifying conversion therapy practices and the evolving ways practitioners market themselves online.

Key Findings:

  • The Trevor Project identified more than 1,320 conversion therapy practitioners across 48 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, including 605 (46%) who hold active professional licenses and 716 (54%) operating in a ministerial or religious capacity.
  • Pennsylvania, Texas, Minnesota, Missouri, and Ohio were the five states with the largest number of identified conversion therapy practitioners, with the South and Midwest as the regions with the highest numbers of identified practitioners.
  • Licensed professional counselors, marriage and family therapists, social workers, and psychologists were the four most common types of licenses among conversion therapy practitioners who hold active professional licenses.
  • More than 70 of the identified practitioners are actively training for full licensure, illuminating a forthcoming generation of conversion therapy practitioners.

“While public awareness of the harms and unscientific foundation of conversion therapy has grown dramatically over the years, many believe it to be a thing of the past. This new report shatters this misperception, revealing troubling evidence that conversion therapy is far from being a relic of history,” said Casey Pick (she/her), Director of Law and Policy for The Trevor Project. “Conversion therapy practitioners are widespread across the country, with many of them utilizing their licenses and credentials to attempt to legitimize the dangerous and unethical practices they aim to impose on vulnerable LGBTQ+ youth. The findings of this report underscore the urgent need for policymakers, state licensing boards, professional associations, accreditation agencies, healthcare leaders, and faith communities to take action today to end this insidious and exploitative industry.”

As conversion therapy is increasingly conducted underground and in secrecy — with many practitioners not publicly advertising their services in a way that can be easily documented — the findings of this report are likely a significant underrepresentation of the true size and scope of conversion therapy practitioners practicing in the U.S. today.

“Every parent wants their child to be well and to thrive, which is what makes this report so astonishing, and frankly, frightening. When therapists, counselors and trusted faith leaders misrepresent their services, families pay the price,” said Brian K. Bond (he/him), CEO of PFLAG National, a partner with The Trevor Project in the movement to end conversion therapy since 2012. “Until lawmakers take action to end these practices, PFLAG National advises LGBTQ+ people and families to avoid services that promote therapies using terms such as ‘conversion,’ ‘reparative,’ ‘reintegrative,’ ‘unwanted same-sex attraction,’ ‘sexual attraction fluidity exploration,’ and ‘rapid-onset gender dysphoria.’’’

The report underscores the urgent action needed to address the pervasive conversion “therapy” industry, outlining key recommendations for key groups to implement, including policymakers at all levels of government, state licensing boards, professional associations, accreditation agencies, healthcare and related business industries, and faith communities.

“Lifting the curtain and exposing this underground practice is a shocking realization of how much work still needs to be done to put a stop to the deeply entrenched conversion ‘therapy’ industry,” said Troy Stevenson (he/him), Director of State Advocacy Campaigns for The Trevor Project. “Governors and state lawmakers have a particularly unique responsibility to act — and act urgently. They have extraordinary power by way of legislation, regulation and executive action to end this abusive and pervasive practice across the country.”

The Trevor Project’s 2023 U.S. National Survey on the Mental Health of LGBTQ Young People found that 1 in 20 LGBTQ+ young people reported being subjected to conversion therapy, and another 10% being threatened with it. Additionally, 15% of LGBTQ+ young people cited the fear of being subjected to conversion therapy as a reason they did not seek out desired mental health care.

Further, a 2020 peer-reviewed study published in the American Journal of Public Health, found that 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. Lastly, a 2022 peer-reviewed study published in JAMA Pediatrics found that the practice of conversion therapy on LGBTQ+ young people and its associated harms—including substance abuse, depression, anxiety, and suicide attempts—costs the U.S. economy a total estimated $9.23 billion annually.

Conversion therapy has been condemned by every major medical and mental health organization as unscientific, ineffective, and dangerous. And since 2012, 22 states plus the District of Columbia have enacted laws banning licensed professionals from subjecting minors to conversion therapy, and five more states—plus Puerto Rico—have implemented partial bans against it.

If you or someone you know needs help or support, The Trevor Project’s trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, via chat at TheTrevorProject.org/Get-Help, or by texting START to 678678.

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