The Dangers of Conversion Therapy

Conversion therapy is a practice that intentionally stress to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The practice specifically targets young people in the LGBTQ+ community. The most common techniques practiced involve talk therapy, where a therapist (who may be licensed or unlicensed) attempts to treat a person to change their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Primarily practiced in the United States, conversion therapy is widely criticized for not only its ineffectiveness but its associated dangers to young people. In light of a new conversion therapy movie released on Apple TV that showcases a conversation between a psychologist practicing conversion therapy and a gay activist, read on to learn the dangers conversion therapy poses.

Conversion Therapy Does Not Work

Put simply, conversion therapy is not effective. There is clear evidence that showcases that fact. The original premise of conversion therapy harbored the false illusion that a specific sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or gender expression was pathological. 

At one time, people who identified as members of the LGBTQ+ community were considered to have a mental illness, but that is no longer the case. The last time the American Psychiatric Association treated homosexuality as a mental illness was in 1973. Less than 10 years ago, in 2013, being transgender was no longer treated as a mental illness. The term “gender identity disorder,” which was the phrase used to categorize a “transgender mental illness” was removed from psychological diagnostic manuals.

National organizations within the United States that represent millions of licensed medical and mental health care professionals, educators, and advocates have issued statements about the ineffective practice of conversion therapy and have warned of its dangers.

The Negative Impact on Mental Health

The practice of conversion therapy is associated with negative mental health outcomes and a greater risk of suicide. In a 2018 study, The Family Acceptance Project found that LGBTQ+ youth who were forced to undergo conversion therapy were more than double the rate of attempted suicide (48%) compared to LGTBQ+ youth who never experienced conversion therapy (22%).

In the same 2018 study, it was found that high levels of depression more than doubled (33%) for LGBTQ+ young people who underwent conversion therapy with those who reported having no conversion therapy experience (16%).

In addition to suicidal ideation and depression, many young adults who go through conversion therapy suffer from anxiety and feel intense shame for being who they are.

Conversion Therapy Could Be Considered a Form of Child Abuse

The main victims of conversion therapy are LGBTQ+ youth under the age of 18. In a study completed by The Trevor Project in 2020, of the 10% of LGBTQ+ youth that reported a conversion therapy experience, 78% were under age 18.

Children who feel forced by their parents to undergo this type of therapy experience a huge amount of discourse in their relationship. Children feel rejected by their families which lends itself to a host of other challenges that factor into a mental health decline. They feel they have no support and no one to turn to. Conversion therapy aims to stigmatize the LGBTQ+ community and uses intense shame to attempt to “change” them, which naturally affects mental health and further rejection from their parents and other family members.

In children who experienced shame for their sexual orientation or gender identity, it’s been shown that as young adults they experience lower socioeconomic status, less educational attainment, and lower weekly income.

Societal Damages of Conversion Therapy

Aside from being intensely difficult for young people in the LGBTQ+ community to undergo conversion therapy, the practice also has harmful effects on society. A study in 2021 showed that total conversion therapy costs were estimated to be more than $650 million per year. The harmful mental health outcomes linked to conversion therapy were estimated at $8.58 billion. The total economic burden of conversion therapy is about $9.23 billion.

Instead of conversion therapy, the recommended treatment for LGBTQ+ youth is affirmative therapy, which validates and advocates for LGBTQ+ youth. If affirmative therapy was given to LGBTQ+ youth, the estimated economic savings would be $1.81 billion over no intervention and almost $6.19 billion over conversion therapy across lifetimes.


About 20 states have laws in place that protect LGBTQ+ youth from the harmful practice of conversion therapy. But, it’s not enough. To dive deep on the topic, check out the conversion therapy movie for a tantalizing look at a young psychologist practicing conversion therapy who has a chance encounter with a gay activist and through their relationship comes to his own epiphany concerning the practice of conversion therapy.

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Sola James
Feature Writer & Interviewer


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