Sheldon Helms on Gay Conversion Therapy: “This Shit Doesn’t Work”

It’s genuinely upsetting when one is reminded of the cruelty visited upon gays and lesbians who are forced or coerced into conversion therapy. Experimental psychology professor Sheldon Helms came to CSICon to educate us about this gruesome phenomenon, and remarkably was able to do so with remarkably good humor, but without dismissing the gravity of the subject at all.

So, on the subject in question, gay conversion therapy, Helms opened with a key observation. “I don’t know what else you heard, but this shit doesn’t work.”

Interesting, interesting. Tell us more.

Helms provided numerous examples of the misadventures and cruelties of the bigger conversion groups, and “the long bloody battle” to curb them. For example, Exodus International “treats” gayness with things like same-sex retreats (“which are counterproductive,” noted Helms), and hammered home to the “patients” the idea that God didn’t love them for their sexual orientation.

Helms visited a little pain on Exodus by buying their URL when they forgot to renew it. Now he says, at exodusinternational.com, Helms shouts with glee, “You see me¬†giving this talk!” (I can’t get it to work, though.)

We’re used to the idea of religious zealots imposing their views of sex on everyone else, but it’s perhaps even more disturbing when it’s actual psychiatric professionals. That’s what you get with the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH). “They are people who should know better,” said Helms.

But hey, they just suggest that guys who don’t want to be gay anymore get more involved with sports and avoid the arts. That sounds like a pretty awful life to me.

Okay, but the ugliness gets exponentially worse when you learn about “aversion therapy,” which I could quickly summarize as torturing the gay away. Patients are subjected to discomfort and pain when they are exposed to images related to homosexuality (a man holding hands with a man), ranging from holding ice blocks to being shocked with a car battery, and only relieved when the “straight” imagery is shown. It’s horrifying.

And there’s not enough being done. Eight states ban gay conversion therapy, but only in certain circumstances. In some places, kids can’t be subjected to conversion therapy by a psychiatric professional, but a clergy member sure can subject the kids to the pain and shame. And as for adults, they can choose for themselves.

So this is still a problem, and there needs to be a much better understanding among the public and policymakers that this therapy is cruelty, and it doesn’t even work.

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