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Practicing Conversion Therapy Could Soon Result In Sanctions For Utah Psychologists

Image of person on therapist couch looking distraught
Renee Bright / KUER

The effort to change a young person’s sexual orientation with therapy may soon be prohibited for psychologists in Utah.

Thursday night, the Utah Psychologist Licensing Board voted unanimously to incorporate new language in the rules governing how psychologists practice in Utah. Based on their review, the board said that “conversion therapy” is harmful to young patients. 

“It is our conclusion that practices intended to change sexual orientation or gender identity are not demonstrated to be effective and are associated with harm and the risk of harm, including significant increases in depression, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts in minors,” said Dr. David Dodgion, the board chair. 

The new proposal would change language about sexual orientation and outline professional standards. 

“It is our determination that psychologists participating in these practices are engaging in unprofessional conduct,” Dodgion said. While not a law, this change could lead to professional sanctions.

Gov. Gary Herbert directed the licensing board to review the issue after a law to ban the outdated practice on minors failed to pass during the 2019 Utah legislative session. 

“This year’s legislative process did not yield a viable outcome,” Herbert wrote in a June letter to officials with the Department of Commerce, the group that oversees professional licensing. 

Herbert advised Utah’s Psychologist Licensing Board to “take the lead” on drafting language that could be adopted by other mental health professional boards in Utah including the Marriage and Family Therapist Licensing Board, the Clinical Mental Health Licensing Board and the Social Worker Licensing Board. 

According to the psychologist board, conversion therapy is considered harmful by professional organizations including the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the National Association of Social Workers, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 

The proposed changes will next be reviewed by the Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing. If approved, Gov. Herbert requested they be made available for public comment no later than September 16. 

Erik Neumann is a radio producer and writer. A native of the Pacific Northwest, his work has appeared on public radio stations and in magazines along the West Coast. He received his Bachelor's Degree in geography from the University of Washington and a Master's in Journalism from UC Berkeley. Besides working at KUER, he enjoys being outside in just about every way possible.
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