Gay doctor reveals the horrific toll traumatising conversion therapy took on his mental health
A gay doctor has described his experience of so-called conversion therapy in Northern Ireland, and the horrific toll it took on his mental health.
Gareth was around 14 years old when he realised he was attracted to men, and told the BBC that when he was in his second year of medical school, he was referred to the Northern Ireland-based Core Issues Trust.
The Christian group, which claims to be able to cure queer people of “unwanted same-sex attraction”, is the most vocal proponent of conversion therapy in the UK.
Gareth said: “I didn’t know what the counselling would entail going into it. I just knew that I needed to get rid of this part of myself.”
He explained that the conversion therapy he received from Core Issues Trust, as well as many other groups over the span of four years, was mainly talking therapy that focused on perceived trauma.
“The basic principles of reparative therapy is that at some point, usually in early childhood, something drastically wrong happens with the child. It usually takes the form of trauma,” he said.
“I don’t remember there being any traumas in my past. You willingly open up yourself with the hopes that, although I don’t know what it was that caused this, this person will be able to identity it.
“You give all your memories away freely.”
He added: “It’s not just that you’re broken in terms of your sexuality, it attacks your sense of identity — that you’re broken, you as an individual are broken.”
This relentless insistence that he was “broken”, and that his sexual orientation was a problem that needed fixing, took a huge toll on Gareth’s wellbeing.
“Pretty soon after it began, my mental health took a drastic turn for the worse,” he said.
“I was at medical school at the time… From that moment on, I really couldn’t focus on anything else other than this — what was being described to me as a pathology inside me.”
Since then, Gareth has broken free of the so-called therapy, and has become a fully qualified doctor.
He added: “There are other people out there going through the exact same thing and it breaks my heart to think of anyone else that was in the position I was.”
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Despite the horrific damage it can cause, conversion therapy is still legal in the UK.
The UK does not currently ban the practice of conversion therapy, meaning it remains legal for Core Issues Trust, and other groups like it, to offer it.
The beginning of July 2020 marked two years since the Conservatives vowed to ban the traumatic practice, which is often compared to torture and has been linked to higher risks of depression, suicide and drug addiction.
Despite previous briefings that a ban on conversion therapy would be brought forward imminently, prime minister Boris Johnson indicated last month that more research is needed on the issue before legislating.
He told the media: “On the gay conversion therapy thing, I think that’s absolutely abhorrent and has no place in a civilised society, no place in this country.
“What we’re going to do is a study on where it is actually happening, how prevalent is it, and we will then bring forward plans to ban it.”