Psychotherapists have been told by their biggest professional body that it is unethical for them to try to “convert” people from being gay to straight.
The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy has written to its members, who number nearly 30,000, to inform them of new guidelines.
The BACP "opposes any psychological treatment such as 'reparative' or 'conversion' therapy which is based upon the assumption that homosexuality is a mental disorder, or based on the premise that the client/patient should change his/her sexuality,” the letter says.
It ends: “There is no scientific, rational or ethical reason to treat people who identify within a range of human sexualities any differently from those who identify solely as heterosexual."
Conversion, or reparative, therapy generally involves talking, but electro-convulsive therapy was used to “cure” gay patients as recently as the 1980s. Chemical castration was also used.
The World Health Organisation has already said that such therapies can cause severe harm to an individual's mental and physical health.
A survey in 2009 of 1,300 therapists, psychoanalysts and psychiatrists in the UK found more than 200 had attempted to change at least one patient's sexual orientation, with 55 saying they were still offering such a therapy.
The letter came as California became the first US state to ban a controversial form of psychotherapy aimed at turning gay teenagers straight.
Governor Jerry Brown approved the measure, which prohibits mental health practitioners from performing sexual orientation change efforts for anyone under 18. The ban comes in in January.
In 2009, Independent journalist Patrick Strudwick went undercover to investigate the practice. He reported that psychotherapist Lesley Pilkington, a devout Christian, had tried to “convert” him to being straight by claiming that childhood “wounding” needed to be “healed”. She suggested he pray to bring repressed childhood abuse memories to the fore – Mr Strudwick had not been abused – and told him that homosexuality was an illness. Playing rugby could form part of a cure, she suggested.
She has since been struck off by the BCAP for professional malpractice and lost her appeal this May.
A spokesperson for BACP said: “The statement of ethical practice was formulated by BACP’s board of governors and is based on the field of existing evidence. It makes clear that BACP opposes any psychological treatment such as 'reparative' or 'conversion' therapy which is based upon the assumption that homosexuality is a mental disorder, or based on the premise that the client/patient should change his/her sexuality.
BACP was not previously able to formulate its position on reparative therapy due to an on-going professional conduct case in which it may have been considered to be a related issue.”
Similar guidance was issued to members by the UK Council for Psychotherapy in 2010 and the British Medical Association has passed a motion condemning attempts to "cure" sexual orientation .