UK: Psychiatrists Have Issued A Historic Admission Of The Harm Done By Aversion Therapy

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has issued a historic statement acknowledging for the first time the harm done to lesbian, gay, and bisexual people who were subjected to aversion therapy, the practice of using electric shocks or nausea-inducing drugs to try to “cure” people of their sexual orientation. "We hold our hands up," it said.

Campaigners and victims have heralded the intervention, from Britain’s main body for psychiatrists, as a “milestone” moment in the history of the LGBT rights movement.

The statement, written by the president of the college, Professor Wendy Burn, was issued in response to an extensive interview BuzzFeed News conducted last month with Jeremy Gavins, who was given multiple hours of electric shocks every week for six months in the early 1970s. He told how the so-called therapy destroyed his education, career, mental health, and ability to form romantic relationships. He was one of many.

Burn expressed “profound regret” in her statement for the “lifelong impact that treatments such as 'aversion therapy' had on Jeremy Gavins and others”.

“There are no words that can repair the damage done to anyone who has ever been deemed ‘mentally unwell’ simply for loving a person of the same sex,” she wrote. “For those who were then ‘treated’ using non-evidence based procedures by mental health professionals up until as late as the 1970s, the trauma of such experiences can never be erased.”

She added that the “injustice” of such “wholly unethical” treatment to which many were subjected – in a practice that was carried out by NHS psychiatrists for more than 30 years – is “keenly felt by mental health professionals. We can’t re-write history, but what we can do is make it clear that today our doors are open and that principles of equality and diversity will be passionately upheld.”

Patients were shown homoerotic pictures while being given numerous electric shocks, or drugs that made them repeatedly vomit or defecate, often in multiple sessions over many months, in an attempt to encourage an association between pain and sexual feelings towards the same sex. One psychiatrist nurse revealed that he was instructed to leave patients in their bodily fluids. Some were left like this for days. Read more via Buzzfeed