Lovaas Institute Statement Regarding Conversion Therapy


The Lovaas Institute celebrates the diversity of our clinicians, clients and their families, and the communities we serve. For that reason, it is important that we make the following statement.

In 1972, a doctoral student, George Rekers, conducted a dissertation on a child’s sex-role behavior. We regret the role that Dr. O. Ivar Lovaas had in supporting this UCLA study. In fact, Dr. Lovaas himself had long regretted his role in supporting this dissertation at UCLA and disavowed Rekers and his work.

It is obvious to us, and the behavior analysis community in general, that the George Rekers dissertation on the modification of what he called “deviant sex-role behavior” of a four-year-old boy was a wholly inappropriate extension of ABA. The impact was devastating. We now know that the child suffered immediate and long-term harm, and eventually died by suicide as an adult. The effects on this child were truly heartbreaking. We at the Lovaas Institute find it distressing and disturbing that this dissertation was ever approved and ultimately published.

Studies such as these are no longer considered acceptable by the scientific community. Conversion therapy has never been proven to be effective and in fact is proven to be harmful. It is morally wrong.

The world has seen progress in the humane treatment of our fellow beings, and it should be noted that behavior analysts immediately reacted to the Rekers study, by publishing rebuttal papers which corrected many of the unfounded assertions (Nordyke, Baer, Etzel, & LeBlanc, 1977; Winkler, 1977). In the years that have followed, the field of ABA has evolved tremendously, as have the values and mission of professionals in the field. We have learned from the mistakes of the past and are proceeding even more committed to supporting the autism community. In current-day ABA, there is an emphasis on embracing neurodiversity, highlighting each individual’s strengths, and empowering them and their families to advocate for their preferences and their needs. Furthermore, professional standards for ethical care continue to be at the forefront.

We take heart that today there is common consensus that diversity in gender identity and expression is fully accepted as healthy and the source of strength in our communities. (American Psychological Association, 2021; American Psychiatric Association, 2013; World Health Organization, 2006).

The Lovaas Institute is proud to be recognized as the leader in the development of early intensive behavioral intervention. We are strengthened by serving the rich tapestry that makes up our community. By nurturing diversity and inclusion, we create a collaborative workplace that embraces different perspectives and fuels innovation. Our goal is for our clinicians to support our clients and their families in achieving the best outcomes possible, in the most compassionate ways.



American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology. (2018.) Conversion Therapy. https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Policy_Statements/2018/Conversion_Therapy.aspx

American Civil Liberties Union (2007). Howard v. Arkansas – George Rekers Fact Sheet. https://www.aclu.org/other/howard-v-arkansas-george-rekers-fact-sheet.

American Psychiatric Association. (1968). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 2nd ed.; American Psychiatric Press: Washington, DC, USA.

American Psychiatric Association. (1980). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 3rd ed.; American Psychiatric Press: Washington, DC, USA.

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). American Psychiatric Press: Washington, DC, USA.

American Psychological Association, APA Task Force on Psychological Practice with Sexual Minority Persons. (2021). Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Sexual Minority Persons. https://www.apa.org/about/policy/psychological-sexual-minoritypersons.pdf

American Psychological Association. (2021). APA Resolution on Sexual Orientation Change Efforts. https://www.apa.org/about/policy/resolution-sexual-orientationchange-efforts.pdf

Association for Behavior Analysis International (2022). Statement on Conversion Therapy and Practices. https://www.abainternational.org/about-us/policies-andpositions/policy-statement-on-conversion-therapy-and-practices,-2021.aspx

Association of Professional Behavior Analysts (2023). Commitment to Supporting LGBTQIA2S+ Individuals. https://cdn.ymaws.com/www.apbahome.net/resource/collection/1FDDBDD2-5CAF-4B2A-AB3FDAE5E72111BF/APBA_Statement_in_Supporting_LGBTQIA_Individuals_July_2023.pdf

Behavior Analyst Certification Board. (2020). Ethics code for behavior analysts. https://bacb.com/wp-content/ethics-code-for-behavior-analysts/

LeBlanc, L. (2020). Editor’s Note: Societal changes and expression of concern about Rekers and Lovaas’ (1974) Behavioral Treatment of Deviant Sex-Role Behaviors in a Male Child. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 53, 1830–1836.

May, J., Risley, T., Twardosz, S., Friedman, P., Bijou, S., Wexler, D., Bricker, W., Cox, C., Hopkins, B., Krasner, L., Lovaas, O. I., McAllister, J., Nash, M., Roos, P., Walsh, K., & Warren, S. (1974). Guidelines for the Use of Behavioral Procedures in State Programs for Retarded Persons. Joint Task Force assembled by the Florida Division of Retardation and the Department of Psychology of the Florida State University, Author.

Nordyke, N. S., Baer, D. M., Etzel, B. C., and LeBlanc, J. M. (1977). The implications of the stereotyping and modification of sex-role. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 10, 553-557.

Rekers, G. A. (1972). Pathological sex-role development in boys: Behavioral treatment and assessment (Doctoral dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles, 1972). Dissertation Abstracts International, 1972, 33, 321B. (University Microfilms No. 72-33, 978).

Rekers, G. A. (1977). Atypical gender development and psychosocial development. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 10 (3), 559–571.

Rekers, G. A. and Lovaas, O. I. (1974). Behavioral treatment of deviant sex-role behaviors in a male child. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 7, 173-190.

Winkler, R. C. (1977). What types of sex-role behavior should behavior modifiers promote? Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 10, 549-552.

World Health Organization. (2006). Defining sexual health: Report of a technical consultation on sexual health 28-31 January 2002, Geneva. https://www.cesas.lu/perch/resources/whodefiningsexualhealth.pdf