Utah therapists practice a form of therapy - attempting to cure homosexuals of same-sex attraction - frowned on by the National Association of Social Workers.
But Joanne Yaffe, president of the Utah chapter of NASW, says that's fine.When the chapter's board mailed out its most recent newsletter it included the position of the national association, which condemns reparative, or conversion, therapy.
"We decided as a board we really needed to educate the membership about what the national policy is," Yaffe said. "And, that's where the controversy is coming in."
The Utah chapter abides by the principles of its parent organization and has not created a new policy regarding the controversial therapy, Yaffe said. And therapists in Utah and other states can continue to choose whether to practice the therapy.
The National Association of Social Workers sent a letter to Utah officials last fall questioning whether reparative therapy was being practiced by Utah social workers.
"I knew there were people in Utah doing it," Yaffe said, adding the therapy is also practiced in California, along the so-called "Bible Belt" and in many other states.
"If you're a member of the National Association of Social Workers you ascribe to the code of ethics. That doesn't mean you have to follow every policy that's issued," Yaffe said. "The policy itself does not prohibit the practice of reparative therapy, it discourages it. And it discourages it on the basis that there's limited evidence that supports its efficacy."
Reparative therapy is controversial among therapists. It once included aversion and shock therapy, Yaffe said, but now mostly involves behavior modification.
Last year, the American Psychological Association passed a resolution to curb the practice of reparative therapy, arguing there was no scientific evidence the therapy worked.
But groups, such as Evergreen International, which believe therapy can help homosexuals overcome same-sex attraction, disagree.
Formed nine years ago by a group of young men, some of whom were returned missionaries for the LDS Church, Evergreen upholds the doctrines of the church while trying to help people overcome homosexuality.
Executive director David Pruden said "reparative" is a misnomer. "Most people don't call it anything. It's just therapy," he says.
Pruden said Evergreen isn't particularly concerned by the Utah chapter of NASW restating the national policy. He is more concerned about the policy itself and the effect it may have in taking away choices from people seeking therapy.
"What concerns me is they're taking a stand of denying people information," Pruden said. "Every person has the freedom to choose whatever will help them in their lives."
Yaffe and Pruden agree the community needs to openly address the issues surrounding the therapy. To that end, a forum has been scheduled for May 16 at the University of Utah Graduate School of Social Work.
Yaffe says more research is needed and has encouraged Utah therapists to be involved in finding it. She said, like everything the Utah chapter does, the newsletter was a compromise.
"We were not going out of our way to be controversial . . . We're just saying, `Be careful. Be cautious.' There is an ethical obligation to provide informed consent to clients when you're using a treatment that may not be effective. We're supposed to inform our clients about all treatments."