A Genspect Scoop: The Irish State can’t find evidence for its own “Conversion Therapy” ban

We at Genspect are very pleased to have the scoop on an unexpected – and very welcome – turn of events.

Some months ago, Genspect reported on a proposed ban on so-called “Conversion Therapy” in Ireland, that was spearheaded by Roderic O’Gorman, the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. At the time, O’Gorman seemed very keen to bring in this bill, framing it as a human rights issue.

Now it emerges that there is no “conversion therapy” being carried out in Ireland at all.

O’Gorman set up the “Sub-committee on Research” within the National LGBTI+ Inclusion Strategy Steering Committee. He now chairs the sub-committee and, in this capacity, he sought evidence to support bringing in legislation against “Conversion Therapy”. But, despite searching high and low, evidence came there none.

The two last meetings suggest that there is no sign of “Conversion Therapy” anywhere in the entire country. This is presumably because Ireland is well-served by over 20 accreditation bodies for counsellors and therapists, each of which has its own rigorous policies to ensure that its therapists are ethical and responsible in their duty of care towards their clients.

Genspect have examined the publicly available minutes of the committee’ meetings. Readers may wish to read them for themselves here and here. These minutes show why the committee is running into trouble: it is now clear that the proposed legislation stems, and has always stemmed, from an a priori belief rather than a real political need.

It was a tactical blunder to state publicly in the Oireachtas that the Committee would procure evidence on “Conversion Therapy” in Ireland before publishing legislation. With the inconvenient absence of such evidence now apparent, some trans rights activists are demanding that O’Gorman goes out on a limb. Bizarrely enough, they want an assurance that O’Gorman will bring in legislation to ban it… even if it turns out not to exist!

And Minister O’Gorman is apparently doing a very sudden reverse ferret.

O’Gorman seems to be circling the idea that this has all been a gigantic waste of time. As he astutely points out, “there also needs to be evidence that ‘there is an issue here’”:

Couldn’t have put it better myself, Rodders!

If it isn’t too bold, Genspect would like to take this opportunity to help Minister O’Gorman out, by letting him know that his suspicions are correct. No therapist is carrying out “Conversion Therapy” in Ireland today.

Here’s the plain truth. Any therapist seeking to “convert” anyone to anything is not practising therapy. The words “conversion” and “therapy” just don’t belong in the same phrase.

The scare quotes are not just well-deserved but integral to the entire bunkum notion. As the old joke about “military intelligence” goes, it’s an oxymoron. Seeking to convert an individual is fundamentally anti-therapeutic: to describe this practice as “conversion therapy” suggests a lack of understanding about the fundamentals of psychological talk therapy.

A proposal to ban conversion practices, on the other hand, would perhaps be a worthy pursuit for the good minister. Certain extreme religious practices may attempt to convert people to their way of thinking – although in truth this seems as rare as “exorcism for demonic possession”, even among our most fervent religious. The fact remains that no ethical therapist would bring an ideological agenda into the room with a client – and thankfully, all this is already covered within the standards of care of the established accrediting bodies. 

This ill-advised bill that proposes to ban “Conversion Therapy” will be unlikely to help anybody. It is also in danger of impeding the therapeutic process, as therapists will fear that the typically exploratory questions they almost always ask could be misrepresented by bad faith actors, who could then accuse them of carrying out “Conversion Therapy”.

This is a badly worded bill on an ill-defined practice, and at the very least it needs to be kicked into the long grass.

Many adolescents benefit from an ethical therapeutic process. Some young people are experiencing internalised homophobia, and could really be helped by the guidance of a good therapist. Many other young people are experiencing gender-related distress, and gentle and compassionate therapy can help to resolve this. This is why we need to protect the integrity of the ethical therapeutic process.

Perhaps, however, it will turn out that O’Gorman is cannier than we’ve imagined. Perhaps, just like many other politicians these days, he’s cottoning on to the fact that there is no mass persecution of trans people going on, and that trans people have all the rights that everyone else has – as they should, because everybody is just as special as everyone else on this planet.

In the meantime, life is short, and there is a lot of work to be done to help create a better world. Pointless bills that seek to ban non-existent practices are a waste of everybody’s time. There is perhaps nothing so useless as doing something which doesn’t need to be done at all.

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