Four days ago the Senate Health Care Committee held a public hearing on a bill that would make it professional misconduct for a licensed therapist to perform Sexual Orientation Change Effort (SOCE) therapy to help a minor reduce or eliminate same-sex attraction.
No vote was taken.
The hearing on this bill took up 50 minutes of the 2 hour committee hearing, which considered 6 other bills as well.
Before any public comment was made, Sen. Bruce Dammeier pointed out that there were no other examples of the legislature determining the standard of care for a profession. He noted that bloodletting, which is not the standard of care for medical doctors, is not prohibited in state law but by professional standards.
A representative of the Department of Health (DOH), which currently has jurisdiction over professional licensing and fields approximately 10,000 complaints a year involving professionals of all kinds, said that current DOH staff has 11 years of institutional knowledge and no one was aware of a single complaint alleging that a licensed therapist had attempted to coerce someone into not being gay.
During the hearing, others pointed out that complaints are not always filed when misconduct takes place, particularly when children are involved.
The testimony in support of the bill began with David Ward, an attorney from Legal Voice, ensuring the committee that the bill was legal. He pointed out that while bans from other states are subject to litigation, the laws have not yet been struck down. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ban in California, taking the position that therapy is not speech and therefore not protected by the First Amendment. It has been appealed to the Supreme Court.
Lucy Homans, on behalf of the Washington State Psychological Association, testified that change efforts could never be referred to as therapeutic and that it assumes there is a disorder. She argued that the therapy results in trauma and the psychological after effects are “myriad and severe.”
Dr. Matthew Goldenberg, a licensed therapist who has a practice involving many gay and lesbian youth, said that therapy of this kind for one patient had caused alcoholism which resulted in jaundice, liver failure, heart disease, and tremors that prevented the patient from working.
Others told emotional stories of being rejected by their parents and community as minors when they announced that they were gay and the pain they experienced from others, including therapists, who made them feel as being gay was not acceptable and changeable.
Unlike a similar hearing in the House of Representatives, this hearing lacked specific stories about children being subjected to ice baths or shock treatment against their will.
Testimony in opposition to the bill included an ex-lesbian who said she always believed that change was impossible, despite wanting to change, because that’s what seven different therapists over two decades told her. She testified that her experience of change, and the experience of many others like her, makes it clear that, at least for some people, change is possible. She said that some people want to reduce or eliminate same-sex attraction and asked the committee why people who might want to change should be denied the kind of help they desire.
Dr. Terry Trudel, a psychiatrist with 35 years of clinical experience, denied the allegation that SOCE assumes a disorder. He testified that the only thing sexual orientation change therapy assumes is that the person wants to change. He said people with same-sex attraction want to have choice about how they express themselves sexually and want to have people honor that choice. People who want to have sexual orientation change therapy want to have choices about how they will accomplish that.
David Pickup, a licensed therapist who owns two private practices that focuses on SOCE told his own experience of having unwanted same-sex attraction and getting therapy that helped reduce anxiety and depression and improve his self-esteem. He said the therapy he received and now provides in no way shames a client but focuses on creating a desired emotional change that that can ultimately lead to a behavioral change.
Pickup noted that the American Psychological Associations 2009 Task Force Report used by opponents of the bill to condemn SOCE says on page 42 and pages 82-83 that there is no proof that SOCE causes harm. He said that if the stories being told by others were true, that they should have their licenses revoked and in some cases be prosecuted, but that is not what SOCE therapists like him do.
Dr. Joe Fuiten, from Cedar Park Assembly of God in Bothell, testified that his church employs licensed therapists in their church counseling center, some of whom are pastors. He questioned whether the separation of church and state should allow the state legislature to tell pastors of his church, who happen to be licensed therapists, what they cannot share a perspective consistent with thousands of years of church teaching.
You can watch the entire testimony below.
The committee now has until February 28th to take action on this bill. If they pass the bill out of the committee, it would then move to the full Senate for consideration. If a majority of the committee votes against the bill, or if the bill is never brought up for a vote, then the bill is likely dead.
Though in the legislature nothing is permanent until everyone goes home.
FPIW’s list of concerns about this bill can be found here, and here.
You are encouraged to contact your legislators about this issue through the Legislative Hotline at 1-800-562-6000 or you can email them by clicking here.