Belfast Telegraph

Queen's University 'regrets' past use of gay aversion therapy

The therapy was used by Queen's University's Department of Mental Health
The therapy was used by Queen's University's Department of Mental Health

Queen's University has said it regrets its past use of electrical aversion therapy to "cure" homosexuality.

The therapy involves a patient being shown naked pictures and given electric shocks if they become aroused.

It was used in the 1960s and 70s, however it has since been debunked.

Speaking to the BBC, a former Queen's student who underwent the therapy, John (not his real name), said the experience was "horrible".

John said he was from a background where homosexuality was "reviled" and went to counselling at a hospital to deal with the issue.

When he became a Queen's student in the 1960s, he was referred to the university's Department of Mental Health and underwent the therapy, which he described as "barbaric".

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"I was quite happy to go along with whatever they told me, I wanted to be cured," he said.

"I was shown a series of what, I suppose, one would regard these days as mildly pornographic images of naked young men. I was given gutties and these were connected up with electric wires to a voltage and I would receive the shock in my feet.

"Incidentally, I found this quite horrible because I'm quite sensitive in my feet for some reason and I managed to persuade them instead to give them to my hands.

"So they then tied something to my hands and they then tied something to each hand and I would get a shock from that."

When he felt aroused by the pictures, John would press a button and receive a shock, however he was also shocked if a period of time went by and he hadn't press the button.

"They would continue giving me a shock until I pressed the button again to say I was no longer experiencing any arousal," he said.

"Yes it was painful, it was pretty horrible. You would then associate any gay, homosexual feelings with something unpleasant - a conditioned reflex really."

A Queen's University spokesperson said that, regrettably, electrical aversion therapy was used a number of times in the past.

"There is no scientific support for this approach for behaviour change," they said.

"The use of these techniques have for a long time not been supported by Queen's University or the NHS.

"While we cannot change practices of the past, Queen's University is fully committed to creating and sustaining an environment that values diversity and strongly supports its LGBT+ community."

John said that he quit the treatment after a couple of years because it did not change his feelings towards men.

"I suppose it is barbaric, what can I say really; I would have done anything to become normal as I saw it. I don't think I've been damaged by it, I haven't suffered post-traumatic stress - I got over it," he said.

"Luckily, fairly soon afterwards I did start to meet some gay people and my life changed completely then and since then things have been much better.

"I don't know how people will react to this knowledge. At the time it didn't seem as barbaric to me as it sounds now."

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