By Mabell, Dave on November 8, 2018.
Conversion therapy is unethical, and accredited counsellors should not use it.
That’s the stand taken by one of Lethbridge’s longest-running counselling agencies, in response to comments raised here during a recent public forum.
Now disproven, the intensive “therapy” sessions were once promoted as a way to “convert” a gay or lesbian person to become heterosexual. More recently scores of states, provinces and cities have banned its use on anyone below the age of majority.
“We do not promote, provide or support conversion therapy,” says Michael Fedunec, executive director at the Crossroads Healing Centre.
Crossroads and Lethbridge Family Services both receive subsidies for clients who can’t afford counselling during a difficult time. But a City official confirms no payments through Family and Community Support Services go to fund “conversion” attempts.
A spokesperson at Lethbridge Family Services says it’s not offered there either. Questions arose after a regular session of the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs.
Speaking for the advocacy group YQueerL Society for Change, co-chair Devon Hargreaves reported more than 9,000 Canadians have signed a petition, launched in Lethbridge, to prohibit use of the “therapy” on people under 18 years. A Saskatoon MP will be presenting it to Parliament, he said, as part of an initiative calling for a ban on its use on minors, under provisions of the Criminal Code.
Jenn Takahashi, administrative director of the university-based Lethbridge Public Interest Research Group, said a related bill is expected to be tabled soon in the Alberta legislature.
Both Lethbridge MLAs have expressed support for the proposed Alberta bill, they said, but MP Rachael Harder had not responded to an electronic request for support of the federal initiative.
While the proponents received an auto-reply -“I will reply as soon as possible. . . Best, Rachael Harder” – a staff member says the MP never received the email request.
A Lethbridge social worker, now retired, told the meeting she was informed – during an employment interview in the 1990s – that her job description as a counsellor at Crossroads would include conversion therapy. She turned it down.
But counselling practices and ethical standards have advanced significantly since then, Fedunec explains. While “conversion” may have been offered 20 years ago, ethical standards set by the professional associations related to personal counselling will not allow it now.
Nor will the standards required by FCSS programs across the province, he adds.
Martin Thomsen, the city’s Community Social Development manager, says an examination of his department’s records over the last 15 years shows there’s been no support for the procedure.
One of the FCSS programs, funded by the provincial government, provides financial assistance to help cover counsellors’ fees.
But that doesn’t include conversion therapy “at any level,” Thomsen says.
“We have very defined and strict criteria that all agencies must abide by,” he adds.
Lethbridge Family Services is the other local agency receiving FCSS subsidies for counselling, and officials there were quick to point out they don’t approve of the procedure.
“As director of the Lethbridge Family Services’ counselling, outreach and education department, I would like to clarify that our organization does not offer or endorse conversion therapy,” says Lisa Lewis.
“We support the individuals, families and friends of LGBTQA2S.”
While it remains a non-profit, Christian-oriented service organization, Fedunec says Crossroads welcomes LGBTQ clients – many of them dealing with the same issues as everyone else.
Today, he explains, Crossroads is governed by a board representing a cross-section of Christian denominations – Catholic to E Free – and is funded through client fees and FCSS subsidies as well as church groups’ contributions.
It’s vision is “everyone matters,” he says, and counsellors are also prepared to help with questions of gender identity and sexual orientation.
“We welcome all people, there is no discrimination.”
In years past, he adds, some counsellors may have refused to serve men and women whose orientation was not acceptable to some Christian traditions. Today, he explains, Crossroads is governed by a board representing a cross-section of Christian denominations – Catholic to E Free – and is funded through client fees and FCSS subsidies as well as church groups’ contributions.
Its vision is “everyone matters,” Fedunec says, and counsellors are prepared to help with questions of gender identity and sexual orientation. Clients might identify with a “mainline” denomination, with the Latter-day Saints – or no religion at all.
“We welcome all people, there is no discrimination.”
In today’s understanding, Fedunec says, “Conversion therapy is a big no-no,” with penalties for those who violate professional codes.
But in Alberta anyone can call themself a “counsellor,” with no credentials required. There may be nobody monitoring what services or procedures they’re offering.
And Fedunec says, “Lethbridge is inundated with counsellors,” with only some of them professionally trained and working with an established, accredited agency.
Many qualified counsellors are in “private practice,” where only a client complaint to the appropriate professional society could trigger an investigation.
Or they rent a room in a larger facility where front-end staff members simply serve as booking agents.
“That reduces the accountability level.”
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