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Royal College of Psychiatrists apologises for electrocuting LGBT people in history of traumatic ‘conversion therapies’

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Royal College of Psychiatrists issues historic statement acknowledging harm done to LGBT people

The statement acknowledges the harm done to lesbian, gay and bisexual people through “conversion therapies”.

As part of such therapies, patients were often repeatedly electrocuted or given nausea-inducing drugs while being shown homoerotic images in a bid to “cure” their homosexuality. The therapies were practiced in the UK up until as late as the 1970s and were often administered to patients over a course of months.

Written by president of the Royal College, Professor Wendy Burns, the statement begins: “There are no words that can repair the damage done to anyone who has ever been deemed ‘mentally unwell’ simply for loving a person of the same sex. For those who were then ‘treated’ using non-evidence based procedures by mental health professionals up until as late as the 1970s, the trauma of such experiences can never be erased.”

The statement, hailed a “milestone” by LGBT activists and campaigners, was issued in response to a recent in-depth article by BuzzFeed UK’s Patrick Strudwick. The piece, an extensive interview with 63-year-old British man Jeremy Gavins, reveals how, as an 18-year-old, Gavins was given repeated electric shocks by British doctors in a bid to “make him straight”.

Wendy Burns closed the statement by saying: “We hold our hands up, open our doors, and fight tirelessly to provide the ethical, evidenced-based mental health treatment that all of us deserve.”

Read the full statement here:

“There are no words that can repair the damage done to anyone who has ever been deemed ‘mentally unwell’ simply for loving a person of the same sex. For those who were then ‘treated’ using non-evidence based procedures by mental health professionals up until as late as the 1970s, the trauma of such experiences can never be erased.

It is important to acknowledge that this was once standard procedure within mental health services, and indeed reflected a wider societal attitude of fear and hatred towards homosexuals.

It is also vital to emphasise that times have changed. Studies that once purported to have a ‘cure’ to homosexuality, or indeed to classify it as an illness in the first place, have now all been disproven and debunked. Studies which once showed conversion therapies to be successful have all been exposed as seriously methodologically flawed. In this day and age, there is no feasible scenario in which a fully trained mental health professional would administer such treatment.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists believes strongly that our first role as Doctors is to do no harm, and we firmly consider the provision of any intervention purporting to ‘treat’ something which is enot a disorder, as wholly unethical. Our position statement clearly states that homosexuality is not a disorder and should not be treated.

Psychiatry is one of the most diverse medical specialities – which fully reflects the diversity of patients. For us, it is an honour and a privilege to get to know each of the individuals that walks into our workplace, and to understand their concerns, desires and ambitions; parts of them that have may not have been shared with anyone else. It is our job to offer non-judgemental advice to anyone who seeks our help, no matter their background, age, gender, sex, race or religion. Similarly, we encourage all those interested in mental health to choose psychiatry and take on what can only be described as one of the most fulfilling and rewarding careers.

The injustice of those within the LGB community who were treated as mentally unwell due to their sexual orientation alone is keenly felt by mental health professionals. We can’t re-write history, but what we can do is make it clear that today our doors are open and that principles of equality and diversity will be passionately upheld.

For anyone seeking mental health support, we are here. For anyone with a desire to choose psychiatry and support others with their mental health, we are here.

For anyone hoping to work with us to right the wrongs of the past, we are here. It is with profound regret that we hear of the lifelong impact that treatments such as ‘aversion therapy’ had on Jeremy Gavins and others.

It is with openness, kindness and humility that we hold our hands up, open our doors, and fight tirelessly to provide the ethical, evidenced-based mental health treatment that all of us deserve.”

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