"Conversion therapy" (also known as "reparative therapy") is a pseudoscientific therapy that aims and purports to change sexual orientation. Conversion therapy has been a source of intense controversy in the United States and other countries. The American Psychiatric Association has condemned psychiatric "treatment" which is "based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon the a priori assumption that a patient should change his/her sexual homosexual orientation." It states that, "Ethical practitioners refrain from attempts to change individuals' sexual orientation." It also states that political and moral debates over the integration of gays and lesbians into the mainstream of American society have obscured scientific data about changing sexual orientation "by calling into question the motives and even the character of individuals on both sides of the issue."
The highest-profile contemporary advocates of conversion therapy tend to be fundamentalist Christian groups and other right-wing religious organizations. The main organization advocating secular forms of conversion therapy is the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), which often partners with religious groups. Psychologist Douglas Haldeman writes that conversion therapy comprises efforts by mental health professionals and pastoral care providers to convert lesbians and gay men to heterosexuality by techniques including aversive treatments, such as "the application of electric shock to the hands and/or genitals," and "nausea-inducing drugs...administered simultaneously with the presentation of homoerotic stimuli," masturbatory reconditioning, visualization, social skills training, psychoanalytic therapy, and spiritual interventions, such as "prayer and group support and pressure." NARTH repudiates aversive techniques and stresses therapeutic efforts toward growing more fully into what it considers one's biologically appropriate gender identity.
National medical and scientific organizations in the US have expressed concern over conversion therapy and consider it potentially harmful. The advancement of conversion therapy may cause social harm by disseminating inaccurate views about sexual orientation. As a result, conversion therapy on minors is illegal in the US State of California.
The ethics guidelines of major mental health organizations in the United States vary from cautionary statements to recommendations that ethical practitioners refrain from practicing conversion therapy (American Psychiatric Association) or from referring patients to those who do (American Counseling Association). In a letter dated February 23, 2011 to the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, the Attorney General of the United States stated "while sexual orientation carries no visible badge, a growing scientific consensus accepts that sexual orientation is a characteristic that is immutable". In a position paper released May 17, 2012, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) stated that services that aim to "cure" people with a non-heterosexual sexual orientation lack medical justification and represent a serious threat to the health and well-being of affected people, and noted that there is a professional consensus that homosexuality is a natural variation of human sexuality and cannot be regarded as a pathological condition.