City Council in Iowa Reverses Ban on Counseling Therapy for Minors
The city council of Waterloo, Iowa voted this week to repeal its ban on counseling therapy for minors seeking help with unwanted gender and sexual confusion. The move is the latest in a series of reversals of counseling bans that experts say is a welcome sign for the freedom of clients to choose their own counseling goals free from political ideology and censorship.
In June, Liberty Counsel sent a letter to the city council warning that it would “take further action” if the city did not reverse its ordinance enacted in May that prohibited therapists from providing minor clients with counseling to address unwanted same-sex attraction, behaviors, or gender confusion. As a result of the letter, the city council voted to reverse the restriction on counseling.
Liberty Counsel argued that “local governments in Iowa do not have the authority to regulate licensed counseling because the Iowa Legislature has given that power solely to Iowa’s Board of Behavior Science.” It further pointed out that the ordinance ran afoul of the First Amendment because it banned counseling “based on the viewpoint of that counseling.”
Courts have previously struck down similar bans on counseling therapy. In 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit found that two Florida laws in the city of Boca Raton and Palm Beach County that barred such counseling were unconstitutional. In the ruling, Judge Britt Grant wrote that the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech “does not allow communities to determine how their neighbors may be counseled about matters of sexual orientation or gender.”
Still, 22 states and Washington, D.C. currently have laws in place that prohibit counseling therapy for gender and sexual confusion. Observers say that the issue will likely go before the Supreme Court in the future.
Supporters of bans on counseling therapy, which is often derisively termed “conversion therapy,” claim that counseling aimed at helping those with unwanted same-sex attractions or gender confusion reduce or eliminate those feelings “don’t work” and “cause harm.” The American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association have cited studies that they say show that counseling therapy can increase the risk of suicide and depression. However, multiple testimonials and at least one study have shown that counseling therapy has led to positive outcomes for clients.
In comments to The Washington Stand, Dr. Jennifer Bauwens, a licensed therapist and clinical researcher, pointed out that mainstream medical associations and universities refuse to acknowledge research that deviates from promoting gender ideology.
“The scientific community isn’t going to welcome research that promotes other ideas that aren’t along the lines of ‘affirmative care,’” she said. “And when those studies come out, watch what happens. Those researchers have been blackballed, they’ve been ousted, research has been retracted. What’s happened is the research end of this topic is no longer a line of open inquiry. It’s been subsumed under a political agenda … so how can we possibly trust it?”
Bauwens, who serves as director of the Center for Family Studies at Family Research Council, went on to note that detractors of counseling therapy have attempted to dismiss it as a form of “torture” in order to distract from the central issue of free speech.
“It has these connotations that people are being shocked [through what is often called] ‘aversion therapy,’ … and into the realm of torture,” she told TWS. “For one, we already have laws on the books about torture. We don’t torture people. Anyone who is torturing someone should go to jail. … [With counseling therapy], we’re talking about free speech. We’re not talking about practices that involve torture. … If this goes to the Supreme Court, it will be about free speech. … Our opponents may try to characterize this talk therapy as abusive, but exploring with someone why they are having the feelings that they are having is not abusive, it’s actually empowering. We should be promoting therapies that explore underlying issues.”
Bauwens further emphasized that bans on counseling therapy violate the ethical foundations of clinical psychology.
“Our code of ethics promotes the [client]’s self-determination,” she explained. “So if we just abide by that, that alone can be a rudder for the treatment process. But [by outlawing counseling therapy], the therapist cannot allow for self-determination. … The proponents [of counseling bans] are saying there is only one way to address gender dysphoria, so they completely monopolized the whole treatment process and are not even allowing for exploration. It not only diminishes the therapist’s ability to do a proper assessment, but it also diminishes the client’s ability to sort out what they want in the treatment context.”
“[W]e’re just talking about talk therapy, we’re not talking about adding hormones or anything else like that. We’re just simply talking about whether or not we are allowed to say certain things in therapy,” Bauwens concluded. “This [Iowa] case highlights that we are not talking about torture, we’re talking about speech.”
Dan Hart is senior editor at The Washington Stand.