Research published today in the BMC Psychiatry journal shows that a sixth of registered British therapist and psychiatrists have attempted to “cure” patients of homosexuality. Shockingly one psychiatrist who responded to the study justified offering “cures” saying: “the physical act for male homosexuals is physically damaging and is the main reason in this country for AIDS/HIV. It is also perverse.”

The study led by Michael King of University College London, surveyed 1,400 medical professionals but finds that there is very little evidence that therapy can really help change whether a person is lesbian, gay or bisexual. “”There is very little evidence to show that attempting to treat a person’s homosexual feelings is effective and in fact it can actually be harmful,” said Professor King . “So it is surprising that a significant minority of practitioners still offer this help to their clients.”

17 per cent of the professionals questioned had attempted to help patients “reduce” gay or lesbian feelings, utilising techniques such as aversion therapy, more commonly used in the 1970s and 1980s. The therapy involved associating gay imagery with electronic shocks. But, just four per cent of therapists and psychiatrists said that they would try to use such treatments if asked by a patient today.

The study that was funded by the Wellcome Trust also found found that a number of reasons were given by these four percent psychiatrists and therapists actively offering assistance, ranging from their own moral and religious views about homosexuality through to a desire to help patients who were stressed by discrimination.

Some of the comments from therapists who did offer treatments that claim to change a patient’s sexuality were shocking.

“Although homosexual feelings are usual in people, their physical expression, and being a person’s only way of having sexual relations is problematic.” One anonomous therapist wrote. “The physical act for male homosexuals is physically damaging and is the main reason in this country for AIDS/HIV. It is also perverse.”

Another wrote: “Where someone had a strong faith, then working to help the person accept their feelings but manage them appropriately may be the best approach if [the] person felt they would lose God and therefore their life was not worth living.”

A third un-named therapist said: “The individuals I have worked with have all been very unhappy about their sexuality and wish they were heterosexual. This has been because of responses from friends, family and the local community – which outside London is still very homophobic.”

The study also found that there is also a degree of ignorance about the lack of evidence surrounding such the efficacy of such therapies – in particular, that there has never been a randomised control trials have ever been conducted that show that therapies to change a sexual orientation are effective.

“The best approach is to help people adjust to their situation, to value them as people and show them that there is nothing whatever pathological about their sexuality,” said Professor King “Both mental health practitioners and society at large must help them to confront prejudice in themselves and in others.”

Commenting on the research, Derek Munn, Director of Public Affairs at the gay rights charity Stonewall said: “So-called gay cure therapies are wholly discredited. The conclusions of this research are a welcome reminder that what lesbian and gay people need is equal treatment by society, not misguided treatment by a minority of health professionals.”

To coincide with the publication of the study, a website has been launched that features the experiences of those who have both received and administered treatment to “cure” homosexuality. It can be accessed at www.treatmentshomosexuality.org.uk