Question: Did the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) ever conduct aversion therapy?

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Question: Did the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) ever conduct aversion therapy?

The Church never conducted aversion therapies of any sort. However, aversion therapy was conducted at BYU in the 1970s

The Church never conducted aversion therapies of any sort. They never recommended it, and they never mandated it However, like many other places in the western world, aversion therapy was conducted at BYU in the 1970s. At this time, aversion therapy was applied to a number of behaviors. At BYU the therapy was conducted following standards published by professional societies and unlike other places, it was only conducted on adults who gave their permission. The Church does not oversee research at BYU.

In this particular case, a graduate student and his faculty mentor at Brigham Young University conducted a clinical study in the use of aversion therapy to treat ego-dystonic homosexuality

The LDS Church is a church, not a medical institution. People who happen to be LDS or go to BYU do a great variety of things. The Church does not take responsibility for everything done by a Mormon or for everything done by someone at BYU (not everyone at BYU is a Mormon).

In this particular case, a graduate student and his faculty mentor at Brigham Young University conducted a clinical study in the use of aversion therapy to treat ego-dystonic homosexuality. Ego-dystonic homosexuality is a condition where an individual's same-sex attraction is in conflict with his idealized self-image, creating anxiety and a desire to change. At the time, the American Psychiatric Society considered ego-dystonic homosexuality to be a mental illness, and aversion therapy was one of the standard treatments. Experiments were only run on those who had expressed a desire for the therapy, and all of the subjects indicated they had improved as a result of the therapy. The experiments adhered to the professional standards of the time. As stated in the paper that reported the results of this research, the research was never endorsed by BYU.

LDS Church leadership does not dictate nor oversee the details of scientific research at Brigham Young University. Like many universities, there are many different research projects going on with many different views on many different subjects. The Church is not responsible for every view held by one of its researchers. The church itself has never recommended aversion therapy.

The church has posted on its website an interview with the following quote:

"The Church rarely takes a position on which treatment techniques are appropriate for medical doctors or for psychiatrists or psychologists and so on. The second point is that there are abusive practices that have been used in connection with various mental attitudes or feelings. Over-medication in respect to depression is an example that comes to mind. The aversive therapies that have been used in connection with same-sex attraction have contained some serious abuses that have been recognized over time within the professions. While we have no position about what the medical doctors do (except in very, very rare cases — abortion would be such an example), we are conscious that there are abuses and we don’t accept responsibility for those abuses. Even though they are addressed at helping people we would like to see helped, we can’t endorse every kind of technique that’s been used."

President Kimball once cited reputable medical sources indicating that the practice of homosexuality could be abandoned through treatments, but he did not specify any treatments by name. The point President Kimball wanted to make, and that the church still makes, is that sexual actions can and must be controlled.

The church does not direct or oversee scientific research at BYU and does not mandate what experiments are to be done or not to be done

The church does not direct or oversee scientific research at BYU and does not mandate what experiments are to be done or not to be done. At BYU, as at other universities, students and professors have a variety of opinions and approaches and have significant freedom to pursue their own academic interests.

As an example, retired BYU professor William Bradshaw has presented biological evidence supporting his view that homosexuality is not an acquired tendency and lifestyle.[1] Bradshaw is free to share this view at BYU even though the church does not have a particular position on the causes of same-sex attraction and certainly believes that the lifestyles we follow represent a choice.

In the 1970's, there were a variety of opinions about how to treat mental disorders. Some professors and students were partial to the behaviorist movement to treat mental illnesses while others focused on verbal therapy. Today, the APA recommends cognitive therapies to help people who feel distress about their sexual orientation, but, in the 1970s, it was unclear which approach was best. If a professor or a graduate student favored one approach over another, it was because they favored that approach, not because it was mandated by the LDS Church.

Academic freedom at BYU

The fact is that every member of the BYU community is free to espouse his or her own theories. As long as they remain in line with standards published by the professional societies and with the school’s academic freedom policy, all are free to pursue their own line of thinking. Actually, this situation is one of the requirements for university accreditation, and BYU is an accredited university.

It should also be remembered that, contrary to the popular caricature of the church, Latter-Day Saints are encouraged to think for themselves and find their own answers to questions, without coercion from church leadership. Doctrine and Covenants 58:26 reads:

For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.

And it was Joseph Smith himself who famously said:

I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please. It feels so good not to be trammeled. [History of the Church 5:340]

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