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Psychologists investigated for practising ‘conversion therapy’ in Costa Rica

Costa Rica’s professional association of psychologists is investigating two members accused of conducting anti-gay ‘conversion therapy’

Diana Cariboni
Diana Cariboni
23 December 2021, 6.07am
Illustration: Inge Snip

In response to an openDemocracy investigation into anti-gay ‘conversion therapy’ in Costa Rica, the country’s professional association of psychologists – the Colegio de Profesionales en Psicología de Costa Rica (CPPCR) – announced that they are investigating the practice of both therapists.

Last month, openDemocracy revealed that two therapists in Costa Rica, linked to US Christian conservative groups, were conducting sessions in which they told LGBTQ people that homosexuality was “wrong” and that only a “sadistic God” would create a gay person.

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CPPCR president Ángelo Argüello told a local media outlet: “A professional psychologist acting like this amounts to scamming the patient, and this is something we will not allow to happen.”

A professional psychologist acting like this amounts to scamming the patient, and this is something we will not allow to happen

CPPCR told openDemocracy that it was now in the process of gathering evidence of potential professional misconduct by the two therapists.

The CPPCR has condemned ‘conversion therapy’ and its code of ethics states that mental healthcare should be based on “respect for human rights and human dignity”.

The umbrella term ‘conversion therapy’ is used to describe “interventions of a wide-ranging nature” to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of LGBTQ people. It is considered “ineffective” and “harmful” by the Pan-American Health Organization and has been condemned by the CPPCR and Costa Rica’s official association of psychiatrists.

Legislative Assembly member Enrique Sánchez, chair of the assembly’s human rights committee, also wrote to the CPPCR following openDemocracy’s publication of its investigation.

”Today, 24 November, an openDemocracy report […] claims that at least two psychologists, licensed to practice their profession and linked to fundamentalist groups, are providing conversion therapies to LGBTIQ+ people,” Sánchez wrote.

He urged the CPPCR to investigate members who could be “violating LGBTIQ+ people’s human rights and breaking its code of ethics”.

Links to the US Christian Right

The therapists under investigation are connected to US conservative, evangelical Christian groups Focus on the Family and Exodus Global Alliance.

An openDemocracy undercover reporter contacted one therapist via the website of Enfoque a la Familia – the Costa Rican arm of Focus on the Family.

The journalist, posing as a married woman with a lesbian relationship, was told during an online session that homosexuality was “wrong” and that only heterosexual couples were acceptable.

The therapist mentioned the issue of “guilt” ten times and told our reporter: “God created man and woman […] our perfect match, and he’s perfect and marvellous. This [homosexuality] is learnt, is something developed on the road.”

The second therapist under investigation is associated with Exodus Latinoamérica – the Mexico-based outpost of Exodus Global Alliance.

Posing as a young gay man, another openDemocracy undercover reporter contacted Exodus Latinaomérica via its website. He was referred to a local religious group, Metanoia Ministry, which directed him to the therapist.

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In a phone call, the therapist told our reporter: “I serve God first. I’m not treating homosexuality as common people do […] God says this is a sin, so we treat it as a sin.” She added: “Nobody is born homosexual, because only a sadistic God would forbid this sin in the Bible and, at the same time, create you like that.”

There have been efforts to stop ‘conversion therapy’ in the country. A bill to ban these practices by licensed professionals was introduced to the Legislative Assembly in 2018 by legislator José María Villalta, who told openDemocracy that “evangelical parties are blocking” its progress.

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New investigation by openDemocracyreveals how therapists backed by US Christian Right groups attempt to ‘cure’ LGBTQ people in the US and Central America – despite local bans and professional regulations against such practices

The investigation in Costa Rica was part of a larger regional investigation that also included the US and Guatemala. It revealed how three US Christian Right groups – Focus on the Family, Exodus Global Alliance and Courage International – were promoting anti-LGBTQ activities in these countries. This included providing referrals to therapists who conduct ‘conversion therapy’.

During the five-month investigation, our undercover reporters contacted therapists referred by or connected to the US groups. They attended paid therapy sessions with them, both online and in person, and were repeatedly told that homosexuality was “wrong” and “a sin”.

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