• Dr. Paul D'Alton

Psychology profession criticised for stigmatising gay people

Practitioners should not ‘pathologise differences’, society president Paul D’Alton tells conference.


Sign from an austerity protest which reads 'Equality is the best therapy. Psychologists against austerity.'
Equality is the best therapy sign.

Psychological Society of Ireland (PSI) president Dr Paul D’Alton has criticised his own profession for damaging him as a young gay man by suggesting he was mentally ill.


Dr D’Alton said he spent half his life living with the stigma of being regarded as mentally disordered as a result of being gay.


He told the PSI annual conference in Kilkenny that the World Health Organisation’s international classification of diseases only removed homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1993 when he was 22.


This classification allowed the label of “sick” to be attached to gay men and women. It also provided the rationale for hate crimes against gay people, he stated.


“What the mental health community said over these decades contributed to a pretty troubled early life for me and for many others, I’m sure,” he said.


‘Abhorrent Interventions’


Dr D’Alton said that such tags also led to “abhorrent psychological interventions such as reparative therapy - an intervention still being practised today in Ireland”, which seeks to “cure” gay people of their sexuality.


He said psychologists had to be careful not to “pathologise differences” or to provide “scientific evidence which has been used to justify practices that are inhumane and cruel”.


“What psychology says matters. What psychology says has implications for human beings just like me, your brother, your sister, your loved ones.”


Dr D’Alton is department head and clinical lead of the Department of Psycho-oncology at St Vincent’s University Hospital, Dublin.


Direct provision


Dr D’Alton also described direct provision as an “abuse of human rights” which will have long-term psychological consequences for the families caught up in it.


“Direct provision has seen children born in this country spend their entire lives in one room, never being able to share a cooked meal with their families. It it is hard to describe the psychological damage such a system is causing to thousands of people. This will have an impact that will be felt for many generations to come,” he warned.


He also criticised the lack of provision of infant mental health services in the country which he said lagged “decades behind many of our European neighbours, yet there isn’t a psychologist in this room who wouldn’t agree with the importance of the first years of our lives”.


He has called on the Government to develop a national strategy for palliative and end of life cases, as called for by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children in July 2014.


He warned, “There is no time to waste - we have only one chance to get good quality end of life care right.”


This account by Ronan McGreevy was originally published by The Irish Times 14/11/14.