Social Welfare Department, Hong Kong SAR
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org (28925151)
RE: The social work training course rendered to social welfare staff by the Social
Welfare Department on 10th June 2011
We are “SHOCKED” to learn from the news on June 18th 2011 regarding “同性戀組織「彩虹行動」8名成員昨前往社會福利署灣仔戴麟趾訓練中心，抗議社署一項社工培訓課程，是要教社工將同性戀者「拗直」成異性戀者” (see attached) regarding the social work training course offered by the Lady Trench Training Centre (LTTC), Social Welfare Department (SWD), Hong Kong SAR Government.
The background of the trainer – gay and lesbian people are assumed to be pathological.
We are dismayed to learn from the news that the trainer that LTTC of SWD has invited was Dr Hong K.W. – a psychiatrist who has an extensive background history in promoting “conversion/reparative therapy” which is a kind of therapy that assumes homosexuality as pathology in the 1960s and 1970s (APA Task Force, 2009, p.22) that needs a change in the sexual orientation. We are shocked that LTTC, as a professional social work training institute in Hong Kong, appear to have no knowledge and sensitivity on the background of the trainer, Dr Hong K.W., who has been promoting the outdated and stigmatized concept of “pathology” of lesbian and gay people in the last 20 years to render such an important training workshop related to sexual diversities.
We understand that homosexuality has been deleted from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder since 1973, and it is no longer to be seen as a mental disorder or perceived as a “pathology”. The most updated professional intervention approach to work with gay and bisexual clients is the affirmative approach supported by the social justice value (APA Task Force, 2009). Even in Hong Kong, Hospital Authority no longer treats homosexuality as a mental disorder in the pubic medical system. Its position on homosexuality and treatment effort to change sexual orientation was mentioned in 2001 in a letter from Hospital Authority to Secretary for Home Affairs Bureau:
“Homosexuality is not regarded as a disease and is excluded as a diagnosable abnormal condition since 1973. Homosexuality is viewed instead as an alternative life style rather than a pathological disease. We are not aware of any studies in Hong Kong to confirm if homosexuality as a sexual orientation would be changed through treatment. However, a review of the literature in psychiatry revealed that in the l960s and l970s, behavior therapy, in the form of covert sensitization, was applied to homosexual men. Nevertheless many of the treatments were considered ethically dubious and there has been no randomized trial of this approach in homosexuals. Some of the treatments had unfortunate consequences and the long term outcomes were not encouraging. In short, there is little scientific evidence to support to the efficacy of treatments designed change sexual orientation.”(Hospital Authority, 2001).
Social work perspective on human sexuality
As Harrison mentioned years ago on social work training on human sexuality: “In an effort to understand human relationships and human sexuality, “social workers must be knowledgeable about biological factors, as well as about the roles played by psychological, cultural, and social factors in sexual expressions” (cited in NASW, 2000).
Most updated social work literatures from social work and counseling have abandoned illness/disease model on homosexuality and adopted social justice, anti-discriminative/oppressive perspectives when working with gay and bisexual clients. These social work or counseling literatures also highlight the importance of social workers or counselors to be aware of their own cultural and religious bias related to sexuality (APA, 2009; Berkman & Zinberg, 1997; Lim & Johnson, 2001; NASW, 1999; Swank & Raiz, 2007, 2008, 2010). The mentioned knowledge has been published in major international social work and counseling journals, such as Journal of Social Work Education; British Journal of Social Work etc.
Conversion therapy creates harm and stigma – an infringement to social work
values and ethics
Conversion therapies are not recommended by professional social work organizations for its assumptions, possible harms and conflicts with social work/counseling values and ethics:
…conversion and reparative therapies are an infringement to the guiding principles inherent to social worker ethics and values. This belief is affirmed by the NASW policy statement on “Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Issues” (1996). In discussing ethical decisions for social work practice, Loewenberg and Dolgoff (1996) noted, “the priority of professional intervention at the individual level will be to help people achieve self-actualization, rather than helping them to learn how to adjust to the existing social order” (p. 47). (quoted in NASW, 2000)
Conversion therapy brings long term mental health harm due to its stigmatized and oppressive experience to people exploring their sexualities (APA, 2009). There are ethical concerns & debates in counseling and in social work literature regarding the use of conversion therapy (NASW position paper, 2000) to work with sexual minority clients. With these important issues evident in international social work and counseling journals, such as British Journal of Social Work, Journal of Social Work Education, Social Work, Counseling Psychologists etc., we do not think this is a professional judgment to invite a private practice psychiatrist who has been, for the past 20 years, working to promote the change of sexual orientation based on the illness assumption of homosexuality, and we are very concerned of the possible harms that may be created through therapies conducted by those who had participated in your social work training course with Dr. Hong K.W.
As a public training institute for professional social workers, SWD needs justification to the tax payers on inviting a private practice psychiatrist to conduct social work training on sexual diversity:
1) What are the background and rationale for this training?
2) What are the goals and objectives of this training?
3) What are the target populations of this training?
4) What are the major contents and theoretical perspectives – a psychiatric perspective or a Christian perspective? Or others?
5) Are there any government guidelines/criteria for deciding a qualified trainer in your training institute? If so, please list out the guidelines?
6) In what ways does the private practice psychiatrist (Dr Hong KW) who promotes “conversion therapy” (with the assumption that lesbian and gay people are pathological) in Hong Kong, with conflicting values to social work
principles (to accept diversities) and theoretical orientations (affirmative, social justice & humanitarian) to be the qualified trainer for social work training course? In what ways has he met the criteria that spelt out in your guidelines?
Thank you for your attention.
We look forward to hearing from you soon.
Chief Social Work Officer (Staff Development and Training) (email@example.com)
Hong Kong Social Workers Registration Board (firstname.lastname@example.org)
APA Task Force (2009). Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation.
Berkman, C. S., & Zinberg, G. (1997). Homophobia and heterosexism in social workers.
Social Work, 42(4), 319-331.
Hospital Authority (2001) Outstanding Issues arising from Meeting on 5 July 2001 of LegCo Panel on Home Affairs Subcommittee to Study Discrimination on the Ground of Sexual Orientation. A letter from Hospital Authority to the Secretary for Home Affairs Bureau dated 6 December, 2001 (HAB/CR/1/34/41 Pt 9)
Lim, H., & Johnson, M.M. (2001). Korean social work students’ attitudes toward homosexuals.
Journal of Social Work Education, 37(3), 545-554.
National Association of Social Workers (NASW) (1999). Code of ethics. Washington,
National Association of Social Workers (NASW) (2000). Position paper “Reparative” and “Conversion” Therapies for Lesbians and Gay Men. Washington, DC:
Swank, E., & Raiz, L. (2007). Explaining comfort with homosexuality among social work students: The impact of demographic, contextual, and attitudinal factors.
Journal of Social Work Education, 43(2), 257-279.
Swank, E., & Raiz, L. (2008). Attitudes toward lesbians of practicing social workers and social work students. Journal of Baccalaureate Social Work, 13(2), 55-69.
Swank, E., & Raiz, L. (2010). Attitudes toward gays and lesbians among undergraduate social work students. Affilia, 25(1), 19-29.