Testimony on Conversion Therapy Ban, SB 224 (2017)

Testimony delivered by Shannon McGinley for Cornerstone Action. 

Please vote to ITL on SB 224. This bill would prohibit licensed counselors from counseling minors regarding unwanted same-sex attraction.

Sexual attractions, especially during adolescence, are fluid and subject to change therefore, I feel it is premature to even use the term “orientation” or “conversion therapy” when discussing their sexuality. These are labels that can make a child feel trapped by how others define them. I have five sons and caring for a 6th teenage boy who lives with us because of challenges in his home. Their hormones and emotions resemble a roller coaster. If they were to experience unwanted same sex attraction (SSA), I (and perhaps they themselves) would want to have the opportunity to talk to a professional counselor about their feelings – to understand the issues they are working through. The counselor may offer them tools to help them work through moments when they are experiencing SSA just like if he was working through anger management or anxiety. According to the definition of “conversion therapy” as stated in lines 5 – 8 of the bill (“…including efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same gender”), providing these kinds of tools would be considered “conversion therapy” and therefore, illegal if this bill were to become law.

What are the logistics of how this law would be implemented? Would an authority be recording the sessions and reviewing them to determine compliance? This would seem to be a violation of patient confidentiality. Additionally, what authority determines when words chosen cross the line into the definition of “conversion therapy?”

Because the child with unwanted same-sex attraction will still have that attraction if SB 224 is enacted, it seems that prohibiting this therapy among licensed mental health professionals might have the unintended consequences of sending clients to counselors who are not highly trained and not subject to regulation. Wouldn’t that put clients at risk for not receiving quality psychological care?

There was a great deal of discussion during the hearing today about the kinds of “therapy” (aka child abuse) that was featured in a recent 20/20 episode. Treating any client in the ways featured should absolutely be defined as child abuse – no matter for what the client is being treated – and the practitioner should face penalties for doing so. However, nowhere in this legislation does it address those kinds of abuse, but rather seeks to cast a wide net that it includes simply talking through unwanted same sex attractions that may only be temporary.

Children who are molested and develop same-sex attraction (SSA) as a result of sexual abuse will be denied access to highly qualified professional counselors who are trained on how to treat trauma and help clients resolve SSA. Same-sex attracted persons are more likely to be victims of sexual abuse than heterosexuals.[1],[2]

Those who oppose SOCE (sexuality orientation change efforts) rely on a few anecdotal stories told by former SOCE patients who claim counseling did not help them, but that does not prove that SOCE itself is harmful. Additionally, it overlooks the many patients who have been helped by SOCE. Whether counseling helps a particular individual depends on many factors. Counseling does not help some who seek help for other unwanted thoughts and actions, such as depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Some are even hurt by such counseling. But that does not mean that counseling for depression or obsessive compulsive disorder is harmful, or should be banned.

Psychotherapy/counseling is both medical conduct and speech. Banning SOCE therapy is against the First Amendment of the Constitution and is viewpoint discrimination. The right of clients to choose their own goals for therapy is a civil right.

I am concerned that institutions like Catholic Charities who have contracts with the state will have those contracts terminated if it is interpreted that they are providing counseling to anyone “to reduce or eliminate sexual or romantic attractions.”

There is already a chilling effect occurring with licensed therapists who provide this kind of help when asked by a client. They decline testifying publically before legislators for fear they will have a target put on their head. Someone with an axe to grind will likely set up the therapist and there will be no way for him or her to defend him/herself.

I spoke with some individuals who have been helped through same sex attractions, but the challenges they face are deeply private. Because of this, they do not want to come to a public committee hearing to tell of their personal struggles.

I urge you to ask specific questions to some who are claiming abuse so it can be verified if this information is accurate. “When did your counseling take place, who was your counselor, was he/she licensed? What dates did you undergo counseling?” It’s important these claims are verified since we’re talking about taking away the rights of therapists and patients with this bill.

Such poorly written and consequential legislation should not be enshrined into NH law. The challenges logistically of its implementation, the rights it takes away from mental health providers and parents and ensuring that teens are not turning to unlicensed and/or unskilled counselors are to be taken into consideration before you vote. Why should minors be able to take powerful hormone blockers and severely alter their bodies through surgery but not seek help in eliminating or reducing sexual or romantic attractions or feelings towards individuals of the same sex?

Thank you for your service. I know being a state representative takes a great deal of your time. Please vote to ITL SB 224.