Dr Gareth Patterson talks about his experience with conversion therapy

Tell us a little bit about yourself

My name is Gareth Patterson. I was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and raised in a small village called Annahilt, just outside Hillsborough, County Down. I studied medicine at Queen’s University Belfast, graduating in 2012, and went on to do my Foundation Years and GP training locally - I think back now and wonder what it would have been like not to have been such a home bird at the time!

How did you come across the College, and how did you get involved?

I first came across RCGPNI as a specialty trainee and in my early years as a locum, when I started attending their events. If I’m really honest, I didn’t consider the relevance of RCGPNI prior to getting a bit more involved. It’s only in the past few years I’ve realised how supportive they are of their members and how important a role they have to play through their educational events, helpful advice, and political engagement.

You are involved with an upcoming event on conversion therapy – tell us about the event and why you got involved

Conversion therapy is the practice of attempting to re-orientate an individual’s sexual identity through psychotherapeutic work. Most people don’t even realise that this sort of thing exists in modern society, or have only recently been made aware of it. I attended conversion therapy, or reparative therapy as we called it then, from the ages of 21 to 23, attempting to change my sexuality. Thankfully I eventually came to my senses, but the years in one-to-one, group therapy, and bible studies definitely had an effect on me for some time, and probably still do.

It might come as a surprise to members to know that conversion therapy is still legal in Northern Ireland. The upcoming event aims to explain what conversion therapy is and the issues that exist around it, and educate GPs who may encounter individuals who are considering or going through it how best they can support them in whatever way they need.

Tell us what (LGBTQ+) Pride means to you

Not feeling ashamed of who you are.

If there was one message you could give to all other GPs, what would it be?

First of all - look after yourself right now. It’s been a really hard year, and we have absorbed the weight of so much and of so many.

Regarding the complex issues around sexuality and conversion therapy. I would simply say, listen without judgement. Patients who are struggling with their sexuality or who have been effected by conversion therapy, have probably experienced some form of discrimination or rejection, or had to endure listening to others telling them who they are or what they should do. Some might be so fearful of how others might react that you might be the first person they open up to. It can be a highly emotionally charged encounter and should be approached sensitively.

About the writer

Instagram: @Patterson9

Twitter: @GPattersonNI