Coping with Trauma Caused by Conversion Therapy—Where to Begin

Conversion therapy is a harmful process. Though more cities and states are passing laws protecting the LGBTQ+ community against this pseudoscientific practice, it’s important to keep the conversation going about the damage done by conversion therapy.

People put through therapy aimed at changing their sexual orientation and/or gender expression experience higher rates of drug abuse, homelessness, mental illness, and suicide—its effects are wide-reaching.

What Is Conversion Therapy?

Conversion therapy is any kind of talk therapy, faith-based intervention, or medical practice whose goal is changing someone’s sexual and gender identity. It has affected LGBTQ+ people across age groups, class statuses, races, and religious backgrounds.

Often, it only serves to build shame and guilt within a person for something they can’t change by sheer force of will.

Where Does Healing Begin?

As a victim of conversion therapy, you might feel overwhelmed by where and how to begin confronting your trauma. Tackling an issue that has likely upset many aspects of your life might seem impossible. Begin by developing a healing plan and breaking it into more manageable steps.

Start by:

Reframing Your Own Narrative

Conversion therapy uses shame as its weapon. Therefore, it’s important to understand that what you experienced was not your fault. This probably goes against what you were told during conversion therapy sessions.

Confront the shame and negative messaging drilled into you during your experience because, as a result, you may have internalized homophobia. A licensed therapist will help guide you through that. Being forced into conversion therapy also probably disrupted your social safety net.

It’s possible you feel betrayed by family and friends you once felt comfortable trusting. As a result, you might need to rebuild trust in yourself from the ground up. Changing your internal narrative is the first step in reclaiming your identity.

Creating a New Support Network of Peers and Family

Building connections with people who support your gender and sexual expression is crucial at the beginning of your healing journey. This encouragement from others will help you challenge your internalized negativity, shame, and self-loathing. A validating, allied community will nurture healthy coping mechanisms, boost your self-worth, and model successful queer lives and relationships.

Try meeting up with LGBTQ+ organizations, businesses, and events in your area! You might find joy in giving back to others harmed by conversion therapy. In addition, this will help you find like-minded people with whom to build new relationships. In the face of losing old friends and loved ones after conversion therapy, having this new support system will set you up for success as you begin to work more on healing yourself.

Finding a Specialized LGBTQ+-affirming Therapist

Conversion therapy-based trauma presents a unique set of challenges for therapists. Not all therapists will be a good fit for you! Find a professional trained in your set of issues and has experience with queer patients.

For example, you may want to work with someone who focuses on coping with religious trauma. If you are dealing with unhealthy coping mechanisms like drug abuse or self-harm, look for someone who can help you redirect and develop healthier skills. Try to prioritize what you feel are your most pressing issues.

Searchable databases on LGBTQ+ organizations’ websites will help you find the right therapist. Also, check for local LGBTQ+ centers, especially if you live in an urban area. They may have more in-person resources for getting the help you need.

Remember: healing from the trauma of conversion therapy is a long journey. Therefore, it’s important to create a strong foundation of self-worth and a support system of people who love you and recognize the struggles you’re facing.

For more resources on finding therapists, connecting with queer organizations, and tips for addressing your mental health, visit: