Prizm News / November 1, 2018 / By Bob Vitale
Leelah Alcorn

State board that oversees social workers, therapists and mental-health counselors is the second to issue guidance against the practice.

 

By Bob Vitale

The state agency that licenses 40,000 mental-health counselors, social workers and family therapists in Ohio says it will post a warning by the end of Friday: Attempting “conversion therapy” on LGBTQ patients could get you kicked out of your profession.

 

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The Ohio Counselor, Social Worker & Marriage and Family Therapist Board voted, 12-2, this afternoon to issue a statement that says efforts to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity are not legitimate parts of the fields it regulates.

The statement also says the practice denounced by national and state professional associations of social workers, marriage and family therapists, and mental-health counselors “can be harmful” and reminds practitioners that harming clients can be grounds for the board to revoke a license.

Two board members appointed by Gov. John Kasich—Anna Bomas of Marion and Christin Jungers of Steubenville—voted against the statement. Jungers is a professor of mental health counseling at Franciscan University, a Catholic institution.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, the Catholic Church doesn’t officially sanction conversion therapy, but it never has condemned the practice, either. And Pope Francis, while preaching acceptance of LGBTQ people, said in August that “there is a lot that can be done through psychiatry” for gay children.

The statement of the Ohio licensing board for counselors and therapists says whatever’s done better not harm people.

“Supporting clients in exploring their questions and concerns about their sexual orientation or gender identity is appropriate assistance for a counselor, social worker, or marriage and family therapist to provide to a client,” the statement reads. “The CSWMFT Board expects its licensees to practice their professions by relying upon the best evidence-based research available.”

The agency directs professions to seven professional associations that have denounced conversion therapy.

Margaret “Charlie” Knerr, a family therapist from Powell who chairs the state board, voted for the statement and called it “a resource for folks that really need clear guidance on this.”

The Counselor, Social Worker & Marriage and Family Therapist Board is the second state board in Ohio to issue guidance against conversion therapy. The Ohio Board of Psychology told its licensees in 2016 that they risk their state licenses if they try to change clients’ sexual orientation or gender identity.

Efforts in Ohio and around the country to ban the dangerous and discredited practice kicked into higher gear after the 2014 suicide of Leelah Alcorn, a 17-year-old transgender girl from the Cincinnati suburb of Kings Mills. She posted a note on Tumblr that detailed her ordeal with conversion therapy and issued a plea to “fix society.”

Kim Welter, policy director for Equality Ohio, said efforts also are under way to address the issue with state boards that license nurses and chemical-dependency professionals.

Six Ohio cities—Athens, Cincinnati, Columbus, Dayton, Lakewood and Toledo—have banned conversion therapy within their borders. Fourteen states have banned conversion therapy, but Republicans who control the Ohio General Assembly have ignored a bill introduced by state Sen. Charleta Tavares of Columbus.

bobvitale@prizmnews.com

 

Bob Vitale
Bob Vitale is the editor of Prizm. A Toledo native and graduate of Toledo Public Schools, he has worked as a local government and politics reporter for The Columbus Dispatch, as a Washington correspondent for Thomson Newspapers and as editor-in-chief for Outlook Ohio. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science from Ball State University and a master's degree in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield. Contact: BobVitale@prizmnews.com