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Volume 12 - 2021

Searching for Evidence of Harm: 79 Key Studies Do Not Demonstrate That Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE) Are More Harmful Than Other Counseling, pages 4-40      



Peter S. Sprigg, Family Research Council


Critics of sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE), which is sometimes referred to as “conversion therapy,” make two principal assertions—that such therapy is ineffective, and that it is harmful. This article addresses the latter assertion, evaluating the scientific evidence of SOCE harms. A recent book (Doyle, 2019) included an appendix labeled “Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles and Academic Books on ‘Conversion Therapy’ Outcomes that Include Measures of Harm.” I undertook a literature review of the 79 sources cited in this document. Some of these studies do not contain any assertion or even discussion of the possibility of “harm” to individual clients resulting from SOCE. Others do assert or suggest that SOCE may be harmful but feature no study subjects. Only a minority of the sources include studies or case reports on individuals who have undertaken SOCE. Just six studies (reported on in 11 of the sources) involved sample sizes of 50 or more SOCE clients. These six are described in detail. Most of the studies suffer from significant methodological weaknesses. Several are explicitly “qualitative” rather than quantitative. The two strongest studies methodologically show the most positive outcomes and the fewest reports of harm. While these 79 studies do provide anecdotal evidence that some SOCE experiences were harmful to some clients, they do not demonstrate scientifically that SOCE is more harmful than other forms of therapy, more harmful than other courses of action for those with SSA, or more likely to be harmful than helpful for the average client.


Keywords: sexual orientation, SOCE harms, research studies

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