Academic journal article Issues in Law & Medicine

A New Family Systems Therapeutic Approach for Parents and Families of Sexual Minority Youth

Academic journal article Issues in Law & Medicine

A New Family Systems Therapeutic Approach for Parents and Families of Sexual Minority Youth

Article excerpt

Introduction

Recently, legislation has been introduced to restrict "change" or "conversion" therapies for minors that experience sexual and/or gender identity conflicts in a number of states and jurisdictions across the United States. Presently laws restricting licensed therapeutic efforts to reduce or eliminate homosexual or transgender attractions, behaviors, and/or identities for minors have been passed in fourteen states, including California, Newjersey, Illinois, Oregon, Vermont, Nevada, New Mexico, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Washington, Hawaii, Delaware, Maryland, and New Hampshire. Additionally, forty-four cities, as well as Washington, D.C., have passed local ordinances prohibiting such efforts. Such legislation argues that "conversion" therapies for minors are ineffective, harmful, and abusive, citing anecdotal reports that some parents and/or families may coerce their sexual minority children into therapeutic efforts to change their sexual attractions, behavior, and/or identity to conform with religious and/or societal expectations or norms.

While such reports of abuse are not easily verified, and in some cases, have been shown to be fraudulent (National Task Force for Therapy Equality, 2017), there is some evidence in the literature demonstrating that high levels of family rejection among sexual minority youth may lead to harmful outcomes. In a non-clinical sample of 224 white and Latino self-identified lesbian, gay, bisexual (LGB) youth, Ryan, Huebner, Diaz, & Sanchez (2009) found that higher levels of family rejection was significantly associated with poorer health outcomes in that young adults were 8.4 times more likely to report having attempted suicide, 5.9 times more likely to report high levels of depression, 3.4 times more likely to use illegal drugs, and 3.4 times more likely to report having engaged in unprotected sexual intercourse, compared to their peers who came from families that reported no or low levels of rejection. While these outcomes showed negative effects for sexual minority young adults who experienced higher levels of family rejection, there was no data in this study for sexual minority youth, and their families, that have undergone professional, licensed psychotherapy, either through individual therapy or family-based interventions.

Contributing to the lack of therapeutic outcomes for sexual minority youth, and their families, is the likelihood that a majority of rejecting families come from faith backgrounds that may favor spiritual counseling or religious interventions that align with their beliefs, rather than utilize licensed professional counseling that may incorporate more secular approaches or mainstream psychological techniques. For example, Loue (2010) examined minors who engage in faith-based mental health treatment using data from the National Comorbidity Survey-a cross-sectional survey of a nationally representative sample of 8,098 respondents between the ages of 18-54-and found that a higher proportion of those who seek mental health treatment do so from clergy who have not been trained in counseling than from either a psychiatrist or a general medical physician. One possible reason for this occurrence is that clergy are visible, relatively available, and do not charge for their services, while trained clinicians are not free or as easily accessible. While this sample did not differentiate between sexual and non-sexual minority youth, it likely included young people that identified as LGB and/ or were questioning their sexual and/or gender identity

Examining the peer-reviewed scientific literature, there are no clinical reports on the outcomes of individual therapy or family counseling administered by licensed professionals that reduces negative outcomes for sexual minority youth that come from religious and/or rejecting families. Such interventions have largely gone unreported in the literature, and when considering current efforts to ban certain therapeutic interventions in states and cities across the United States, these therapeutic modalities merit consideration. …

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