Albania’s Order of Psychologists has announced that it will prohibit members from offering “conversion therapy,” or pseudo-therapeutic attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
The decision effectively bans conversion therapy in Albania, as registered therapists are required to be members of the group in order to legally practice.
Albania’s prohibition is a welcome development, even if discrimination against LGBT people in the country remains high. Studies have shown that efforts to change sexual orientation and gender identity are ineffective, and may foster anxiety, depression, suicide, and other mental health problems.
The World Psychiatric Association has criticized these fraudulent therapies as “wholly unethical,” and the Pan American Health Organization has warned that they pose “a serious threat to the health and well-being of affected people.” A wide range of medical associations in places such as Brazil, Hong Kong, India, Lebanon, Turkey, South Africa, and the United States have similarly condemned these practices.
Therapies that purport to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity may also constitute serious human rights abuses. These efforts often involve discrimination, restrictions on movement, and physical and sexual abuse, and may at times amount to torture or other forms of ill-treatment.
In recognition of these facts, many countries have begun to proscribe these efforts, especially in psychiatric and medical settings.
Malta, Ecuador, and Germany have used criminal law to regulate the practice, punishing violators with fines and imprisonment. Other countries, like Brazil and Taiwan, outlaw it via professional sanctions. Lawmakers in many countries around the globe are considering bans on the practice, including in Australia, Canada, Chile, France, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, Spain, and the United States.
As countries debate the scope of conversion therapy bans, one thing is clear – conversion therapy is widely recognized as ineffectual and psychologically harmful. In addition to banning the practice in psychiatric and medical settings, countries should take steps to educate mental health professionals and the public about the harm that it causes, provide support to survivors, and work to lessen the stigma that drives people into conversion therapy.
Albania’s decision should spur medical and mental health professionals in other countries to take a strong stance against conversion therapy, and to formally condemn it as a dangerous and discredited practice.