Second state board agrees to ban conversion therapy

Second state board agrees to ban conversion therapy
Adam Trimmer, 29, watches his mom speak against conversion therapy during a Board of Counseling hearing last week. (Katie O'Connor/ Virginia Mercury)

Paulette Trimmer was excited when her 18-year-old son’s counselor asked her to sit in on a therapy session. She was proud. She thought it was a good sign.

“I didn’t have a clue that I was going into a den of wolves,” she told the Virginia Board of Counseling on Friday.

Her son, Adam Trimmer, went through conversion therapy at age 18 after surviving a suicide attempt. His parents were with him in the hospital when his youth pastor — a man the family trusted — approached them and claimed to be able to help their son.

But help translated into conversion therapy and an attempt to change Adam’s sexual orientation, putting him through emotional and mental trauma that has taken him years to confront, he said.

On Friday, the board decided to issue a guidance document and create regulations prohibiting its licensees from practicing conversion therapy on minors, lest they risk “a finding of misconduct and disciplinary action” from the board.

In October, a work group convened by the Department of Health Professions considered actions that its various boards could put in place to ban conversion therapy for those under 18 by a clinician licensed by the state, after several attempts to do so through legislation failed in the General Assembly.

The Board of Psychology was the first to start the process of banning the practice during a January meeting.

Both boards have decided to issue guidance documents because they typically become effective faster, whereas changing regulations can take 18 to 24 months, said Elaine Yeatts, senior policy analyst for the Department of Health Professions. The guidance documents still must go through a public comment period, though.

Only one member of the Board of Counseling voted against issuing the guidance document. During the meeting, board member Terry Tinsley said he is concerned about the “labeling” around the word “conversion,” and about “the impact on the faith community.”

But the rest of the board disagreed.