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Protection . . . Oamaru counsellor Amanda Acheson says the heart of the bill to ban conversion therapy is protection. PHOTO: RUBY HEYWARD

Conversion therapy is now an illegal practice in New Zealand.

The Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill, which received a record number of submissions to Parliament, passed its third reading earlier this week.

Conversion therapy is any practice, sustained effort, or treatment that is directed at an individual with the intention to change or suppress their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expressions.

Oamaru counsellor Amanda Acheson said the ‘‘heart behind the Bill’’ was protection for the vulnerable in the community, with an emphasis against abuse and coercion.

Mrs Acheson, who is also a member of the New Zealand Christian Counsellors Association, supported the prohibition of conversion therapy.

‘‘As a therapist and a person of faith, my personal feelings are we can celebrate that we’ve got legislation that will further the cause of an inclusive society,’’ she said.

The practice was a pseudo science that had lasting negative impacts on recipients’ mental, spiritual, social and physical wellness, she said.

The ‘‘abusive’’ practice was damaging in its use of shame, coercion, and manipulative tactics and often made people feel that if their identity was anything other than hetero-normative, they were defective or had a disorder, she said.

‘‘I do know of individuals who have been hurt and harmed through conversion therapy practices,’’ she said.

‘‘It’s really hard to find people who have been helped through conversion therapy practices.’’

Mrs Acheson recognised there were some concerns when the Bill went through its first reading, but believed these key issues had been addressed with its amendments. These issues concerned freedom of speech regarding the faith community, parents and guardians wanting to have autonomy while raising their children, and health practitioners wanting to provide care to their patients.

Health professionals were protected for the good work they did, beholden to professional bodies and ethics, while people who were not qualified health professionals could not conduct pseudo science under the guise of conversion therapy.

‘‘From a therapeutic point of view its about keeping people in their lane — its about people knowing to work within their scope of confidence,’’ she said.

Conversion practises did not include the expression of a belief or a religious principle that was not intended to change or suppress the individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.

‘‘Faith communities are absolutely free to continue pastoral care, prayer and preaching as its definition is largely described under what conversion practices are not.’’

Waitaki MPJacqui Dean voted in support of the Bill at its second and third readings.

‘‘I want New Zealand to be a country that celebrates and supports diversity, including our rainbow community,’’ Mrs Dean said.