sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) / gender identity change efforts (GICE)Last updated
Sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) are the unethical, pseudoscientific practice of attempting to alter a person’s sexual orientation. They often overlap with gender identity change efforts (GICE). The phrase “conversion therapy” is sometimes used as an umbrella term for SOCE and GICE, though this can lend credence to the false idea that these efforts are actual treatments. It’s helpful to provide context for the term “conversion therapy” if using, or to indicate why SOCE or GICE is used instead.
SOCE and GICE have many other names, some of which may sound misleadingly accepting of LGBTQ+ individuals. Examples include “reparative therapy”, “sexual attraction fluidity exploration in therapy”, “gender critical therapy”, and “sexuality counseling.” Other phrases used to obfuscate the therapy’s purpose include “decreasing intensity of unwanted same-sex attraction,” “reducing gender confusion,” “encouraging sexual wholeness,” and “promoting healthy sexuality.”
SOCE and GICE developed due to the marginalization and misclassification of homosexuality, bisexuality, and non-cis gender expression as psychiatric disorders during the 19th and 20th centuries. The German psychologist Albert von Schrenck-Notzing is often labeled as the first “conversion therapist.” Von Schrenck-Notzing ran a private practice in the 1890s to “cure” homosexuality with hypnotism. Over half a century later, conversion therapists would try dangerous, violent, and unethical “treatments” for queer people, including electric shock and lobotomy.
LGBTQ+ civil rights movements in the 1960s and 1970s helped remove the sense of legitimacy from SOCE and GICE. “Homosexuality” was removed from the American Psychological Association’s DSM when the second edition came out in 1973. Transgender people have had to endure pathologizing for much longer, moving through the diagnoses “transexualism” (DSM-III) and “gender identity disorder” (DSM-IV) until the DSM-5 came out in 2013. The DSM-5 shifted to list gender dysphoria — “gender-identity related distress” — as the diagnosis rather than simply being transgender.
Many organizations condemn conversion therapy as an unethical practice. A 2020 study in the American Journal of Public Health found that LGBTQ+ youth who had undergone conversion therapy efforts were more than twice as likely to have attempted suicide as those who had not. These practices are banned in at least 20 states and Washington, DC, as well as a number of counties and major cities throughout the US, but only for minors. (Describing such laws as “banning therapy” can misleadingly imply that the laws are censorship rather than regulation of clinical mental health treatment.)
There are no laws against SOCE or GICE for adults, although the American Psychological Association has found no evidence that sexual orientation or gender identity change efforts reach their purported objectives. In many cases, that a “conversion” is not achieved is blamed on the subject, who may be accused of lacking motivation or faith.
“Consensual conversion therapy” with adults is not an exception to harmful sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts. SOCE and GICE are forms of abusive practices; engaging in something abusive with consent does not make it inherently less abusive. In an individual case, it would be important to explain the reasoning and context. Accurate reporting would reflect that the practices are harmful, not supported with scientific evidence, and not a legitimate form of therapy.
- So-Called Conversion Therapy and LGBTQ Mental Health (The Trevor Project)
- The Lies and Dangers of Efforts to Change Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity (Human Rights Campaign)
Sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) are the unethical pseudoscientific practice of attempting to alter a person’s sexual orientation. They often overlap with gender identity change efforts (GICE). The phrase “conversion therapy” is sometimes used as an umbrella term for SOCE and GICE, though this can lend credence to the false idea that these efforts are actual treatments. Accurate reporting would reflect that the practices are harmful, not supported with scientific evidence, and not a legitimate form of therapy.