'Conversion therapy' controversy at CAMH transgender clinic
Published Thursday, March 19, 2015 10:44AM EDT
CAMH, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, has launched a review of its Gender Identity Services Clinic for youth, after complaints that the clinic might be engaging in "conversion therapy."
The clinic is open, but the waiting list to be one of the 20 patients treated at the facility every year is closed.
That decision was made in the fall, when the list stretched to nine months.
And now, CAMH has decided to review the program following complaints from a coalition that works with the transgender community, Rainbow Health Ontario. That group has raised the question of whether therapists are practising "conversion therapy" – an outmoded form of psychiatry that included counselling aimed at changing a person's sexual orientation or gender identification.
Dr. Kwame McKenzie, medical director of Underserved Populations, Access & Transitions at CAMH, says the clinic treats kids ranging in age from three to 18. For older kids -- those entering puberty -- there is no controversy: youth and their parents are offered therapy for coming to terms with their gender identity and they move on.
The problems can arise when dealing with younger children who are questioning their gender identities.
"It's really in the young, young kids that there are some differences of opinion and differences in professional opinion. So they came to us and said we need to get into a conversation," McKenzie said.
McKenzie says, in those cases, parents often want to force their child to choose a gender identify. Treatment involves counselling the parents, but when therapists offer them advice on handling their child's behaviour, it is sometimes construed as conversion therapy, he says.
McKenzie insists there is no conversion therapy underway at his centre's clinic.
"That doesn't happen at CAMH," he told CTV's Canada AM Thursday.
The clinic works to help children by offering them treatment for any anxiety or depression they may be experiencing, as well as counselling for family dynamics problems.
"We do a full assessment, we treat any mental disorder, and sometimes that means medication. We do family therapy, we do individual therapy, and we try to decrease the amount of anxiety and depression," McKenzie explained.
Earlier this year, when the centre was approached by Rainbow Health Ontario, they presented the clinic with a literature review saying there were newer approaches to gender identity therapy that the clinic was not using.
McKenzie says CAMH works to serve the public and so will gladly review that literature.
"If there are things we can do better, we will be happy to do them," he said.
"...We want to make sure that what we're doing are the right things and that we've got the right balance for a very vulnerable group of kids."