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Northern Ireland Hospital 'Regrets' History of Shock Therapy on Gays

Queen's University Belfast
Queen's University Belfast

Queens University Belfast continued research on the practice as late as 1973.

Officials from a hospital in Northern Ireland that used to allow electroshock therapy to "cure" homosexuality say they regret the practice.

A spokesperson for Queen's University Belfast "expressed regret" to the BBC for its history of employing so-called aversion therapy.

Papers published by researchers at QUB show the practice was employed at least until 1973. That's when the Ulster Medical Journal published an article about the practice written by mental health, social studies, and psychology researchers.

"We have a particular interest in the use of methods for producing heterosexual interest in exclusive homosexuals," the report reads. "In fact we rarely use electrical aversion therapy, at least as a treatment of first choice, with any of the patients referred to our clinic."

Dr. Tommy Dickinson, head of the Department of Mental Health Nursing at King's College London, said at no point has such therapy been considered acceptable.

"Although they were administered free of charge on the National Health Service it's only been estimated that about 1,000 people ever received the treatment," he said. "That might seem a relatively small number, but that's not to negate the negative impact that had on those people."

Dickinson uncovered the places that used the therapy methods while researching his book "Curing Queers": Mental Nurses and Their Patients, 1935-1974.

At the time QUB published papers on the matter in the mid-1970s, the practice had already been all but abandoned.

The BBC spoke to one individual, identified only as John, who received the treatment at QUB in the 1960s. He said electric wires were attacked to his feet during therapy. "They would give me a shock and would continue giving me a shock every 15 or 30 seconds," he said.

John, a student at QUB, was referred to the therapy by the Mental Health Department at the university.

"I was shown a series of what, I suppose, one would regard these days as mildly pornographic images of naked young men," he recalled. "I was given gutties and these were connected up with electric wires to a voltage and I would receive the shock in my feet."

He was asked to press a button if the pictures of men aroused him, and that would produce a shock. The idea was to associate gay attraction with pain.

"It was painful," he said. "It was pretty horrible."

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