Alberta LGBTQ2S+ community welcomes psychologists' ban on conversion therapy

The latest standards of practice bans any treatment aimed at changing client's sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.

'There is no research that demonstrates the efficacy or the effectiveness of conversion therapy'

LGBTQ advocate Kristopher Wells applauded the ban by the College. (Jordan Omstead/CBC)

An LGBTQ2S+ advocate is welcoming a ban on conversion therapy by the College of Alberta Psychologists.

In October, the college's updated standards of practice prohibited members from providing any treatment aimed at changing or modifying a client's sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.

"Our obligation as a college is to ensure that we explain evidence and we explain our approach to sexual orientation, which of course is that same-sex attraction is not a mental health disorder, in fact hasn't been considered one for at least 40 years," Dr. Richard Spelliscy, chief executive officer of the college, said in an interview.

The college hasn't received any complaints about conversion therapy being used by Alberta psychologists, Spelliscy said.

But issuing such a statement, he said, can have "a significant impact on how individuals are perceived and how people are treated."

Dr. Kristopher Wells, Canada research chair for the public understanding of sexual and gender minority youth at MacEwan University, said the ban is more than symbolic.

"One of the repercussions could be losing your licence to practice," Wells said. "What it also does is, it encourages other health and professional bodies to issue similar kinds of statements."

Wells was among those behind the push to get local governments to ban conversion therapy. In December, Edmonton city council approved a bylaw to ban conversion therapy. Calgary's city council is also taking steps to ban the controversial practice.

"There is no research that demonstrates the efficacy or the effectiveness of conversion therapy," Wells said. "In fact, the research shows quite the opposite. It shows the extreme harm and damage that conversion therapy can do to the individual."

In a letter written in July, federal Justice Minister David Lametti urged Alberta Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer to take action to end the practice. The letter indicated Ottawa was considering reforms that would criminalize conversion therapy.

Schweitzer said in his response that the province welcomed the opportunity to examine proposals to criminalize the practice. But he said a totality of measures including the Alberta Human Rights Act already constituted a complete legal ban on the practice in Alberta.

A working group formed by the former NDP government to look at a possible provincial ban on conversion therapy lapsed after the UCP government came to power in April 2019.

Spelliscy advised anyone subjected to conversion therapy by a registered psychologist to report it to the college. Non-regulated counsellors should be reported to Alberta Health, Spelliscy said.

Wells said the reality is that conversion therapy is not necessarily being used psychologists or psychiatrists in Alberta.

"It's much more underground," Wells said. "It might be happening after business hours. It might be happening in a basement, or unfortunately it's still happening in some faith communities and cultural communities, under the guise of praying away the gay. Or that homosexuality doesn't exist in that community, and anyone who shows same-sex tendencies or who's gender diverse needs to be fixed or cured in order to gain acceptance in their community."

The Alberta Medical Association and the Canadian Medical Association have not taken official positions on conversion therapy, AMA spokesperson Shannon Rupnarain said.