‘Traumatising’ and ‘harmful’ conversion therapy to be banned under new laws

Report by TCD details practices including administering electro-shock treatment to a 12-year-old victim

Legislation to ban conversion therapy – where LGBTI people are pressured to change their sexuality or gender – will be introduced by the end of the year, the Government has pledged, following a report that alleges that a 12-year-old was illegally given electro-shock treatment.

In a report on Friday by the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Trinity College Dublin, which carried out a survey of 278 people, victims detailed “traumatising”, “destructive”, “anxiety-provoking”, “horrendous”, “harmful” and “damaging” experiences.

The findings of the Trinity College report, which carried out in-depth interviews with seven of the 38 people who reported that they had been subjected to conversion practices, will inform the Government’s proposed legislative ban on conversion therapy.

“Work on the legislation is ongoing and is a priority for Government this year. This practice is abusive and causes significant harms to people already in distress,” the Minister for Equality, Roderic O’Gorman, told The Irish Times.


The Department of Children is looking at international good practice in the drafting of laws, while a subgroup of the LGBTI+ National Inclusion Strategy Committee, established in May 2021, is working on plans, too. Work has begun to identify the “key legal issues” that must be addressed.

Participants in the first Irish study on “conversion therapy” described distress at being LGBTI and how interventions aimed at changing or “curing” them caused further distress, when they did not work and exacerbated their sense of shame and “sinfulness”.

“One participant wrote that he had been forcibly given electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) when he was 12 years old to change his sexual orientation and gender identity,” the report says, while another described interventions as the “worst” experience of their life.

The organisations which carried out the practices were not named in the report, but faith-based “therapists”, and in one case a psychiatrist, were involved. They took place mainly in Ireland, although two study interviewees also experienced it abroad.

The practice occurs primarily among groups with strong religious faiths and those holding strong beliefs that anything other than heterosexual relations are unacceptable, to be rejected, and that actions should be taken to force change.

Some respondents to the study were exposed to the practice against their will, while others – “desperate not to be [LGBTI]” – actively sought it. Some had experienced the practice within the last five years and “at least two” were still undergoing it.

One person said he “threw” himself into a programme of “of theology, psychobabble, psychotherapy” that would see him “straight at the end of it” and that was rooted in a belief that he was sexually dysfunctional because of childhood experiences, or having had a dominant mother, or a weak father.

Several with gender dysphoria attended therapists for unrelated issues, where the focus quickly turned to their gender. One transgender participant claimed that a therapist had “suggested that all trans people should attend therapy”.

A number were encouraged to enter heterosexual relationships, including marriage, which broke down – exacerbating feelings of failure, shame and worthlessness. A recurring theme was the damage conversion practices do to individuals already experiencing internalised homophobia/transphobia.

“It made them feel guilty about who they were... ultimately delaying the self-acceptance that they needed... there were references to self-hate and self-loathing. [It] reinforced the belief that there was something wrong with [them]...

“For some, it left them feeling isolated and alone,” the report goes on, concluding that conversion therapy should be banned and that the harms associated with it, and its ineffectiveness, should be better known by the public.

Rejecting charges that a ban would hurt religious freedoms, the authors said: “The right to believe religious scripture about the nature of sexuality and gender identity is protected by international human rights legislation. The right to inflict potential harm based on religious teachings to change or suppress sexual orientation and gender identity or for other faith-based reasons is not.”

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times