Intended for healthcare professionals


Treatments of homosexuality in Britain since the 1950s—an oral history: the experience of professionals

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 19 February 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:429
  1. Michael King, professor of primary care psychiatry (m.king{at},
  2. Glenn Smith, research fellow1,
  3. Annie Bartlett, senior lecturer2
  1. 1Department of Mental Health Sciences, Royal Free and University College School of Medicine, Royal Free Campus, London NW3 2PF
  2. 2Department of Psychiatry, St George's Hospital Medical School, Jenner Wing, London SW17 0RE
  1. Correspondence to: Michael King
  • Accepted 2 December 2003


Objective To investigate the experiences of professionals who administered and evaluated treatments for homosexuality in Britain since the 1950s.

Design A nationwide study based on qualitative interviews.

Participants 30 health professionals who developed and practised treatments for homosexuality.

Results A range of treatments were developed to make homosexuals into heterosexuals, the most common of which were behavioural interventions. Treatments were based on little evidence of effectiveness and were open to the criticism that legal or social pressures coerced patients. Treatments did not become mainstream within British mental health services. With hindsight, professionals realised that they had not appreciated the influence of social context on sexual behaviour. Most now regarded same sex attraction as compatible with psychological health, although a small minority considered that the option to try to become heterosexual should still be available to patients who desire it.

Conclusions Social and political assumptions sometimes lie at the heart of what we regard as mental pathology and serve as a warning for future practice.


  • Funding GS was supported by a grant from the Wellcome Trust History of Medicine Section

  • Competing interests None declared

  • Ethical approval: Royal Free Hospital NHS Trust research ethics committee approved the study.

  • Accepted 2 December 2003
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