In January 2015 a memorandum of understanding was signed by a host of organisations, including the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, the UK Council for Psychotherapy, the Royal College of Psychiatrists and NHS England. The memorandum condemned so-called “conversion therapy” or “reparative therapy”, which aims to turn gay people straight.
I fully agree with the memorandum that such “therapy” is both unethical and harmful. However, it was criticised for not also condemning such tactics when used with transgender people. Just under a year ago the UK Council for Psychotherapy announced it was “developing its position” on transgender people and conversion therapy, but since then nothing has happened. Yesterday Dominic Davies, a fellow of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, resigned in protest over what he feels is foot-dragging over the issue.
Davies gives his reasons for resignation on his blog.
Today, I was informed in a “courtesy call, as a Fellow of BACP and someone very involved in these issues” that BACP don’t want to create an ever growing “list of orientations and conditions” [my emphasis], when the Ethical Framework already has principles which make unprofessional and incompetent practice unethical.
They want to just rely upon their Ethical Framework (and there is a new one out in July) which is based on ethical principles, currently they are: autonomy, trustworthiness, beneficence, non-maleficence, justice and self respect. http://www.bacp.co.uk/ethical_framework/ethics.php to ensure members act appropriately and ethically.
However, how are therapists supposed to be able to deliver competent and ethical therapy without specific training about gender, sexual and relationship diverse clients? For example, without knowledge of the specific mental health needs and socio-cultural contexts in which minority stress and micro aggressions contribute to much higher rates of depression, suicide and self harm, (with bisexuals and gender variant people having significantly poorer mental health than lesbians and gay men). Research into self harm amongst trans people shows that over 40% of trans people have attempted to take their lives or self harmed, about how relationship dynamics are often different amongst LGB people; about working with gender variant young people. There has been a 400% increase in referrals to the child and adolescent Gender Identity Development Unit at the Tavi and many therapists in community settings are working with young people and their families around gender identity issues. We are increasingly hearing stories from trans people about poor understanding of their issues. Including accounts from gender non-conforming young people being encouraged to follow to gender roles appropriate to the sex they were assigned at birth (i.e. boy’s shouldn’t play with dolls or dress in female clothing etc).
I agree with Davies that simply referring people to the Ethical Framework rather than saying in black and white, “Don’t try to convert transgender people” isn’t enough. It’s not hard to imagine a therapist, particularly if they were of a hardline religious persuasion, deciding to interpret the Framework in a way that says, “Yes, it is ethical to try to revert someone to their birth gender.”
The reasons why this is important could not be demonstrated in a more tragic way. In 2014 a 16 year old transgender girl, Leelah Alcorn, threw herself under the wheels of a truck after her parents forced her to attend conversion therapy. In her suicide note, she explicitly cited the “therapy” as a factor in her death. In the USA there is a campaign for a “Leelah’s Law” to ban conversion therapy.
There really is no reason why organisations like the BACP and UKCP should be dragging their feet like this. Yes, the UKCP has said they’re “developing their position”, but how much of a position do they need to develop? All you need is, “There’s nothing wrong with being transgender, and if you try to convert them you could seriously harm them, so don’t try.” It’s as simple as that. If the President of the United States can do it, they certainly can.
In his blog post, and also a follow-up post, Davies also expresses a wider concern with the way the BACP has tended to respond to LGBT issues.
It’s not as if there are no gay people working in the highest echelons of BACP. But it’s largely cis white gay male privilege reinforcing the status quo from within. I recall in my early days of attending BACP annual conferences (when they had such things) that I’d be largely avoided by ‘discretely’ gay/bi senior officials – fear of guilt by association. But it gave me some sense that BACP might be alright and looking out for us…
So it feels a kick in the teeth when I hear from people whom I’ve always respected that they feel there is a lack of evidence that Conversion Therapy is being practiced on trans and gender variant people and on asexuals. They may not know of it happening, they may not have seen the research, but that DOES NOT mean there is no evidence! (yesterday I cited several studies). Those of us closely connected to the Trans and Asexual communities are hearing all the time about how crappy therapists have been, how inappropriately they’ve treated them. It’s unfortunate that BACP are so out of touch and uninterested in learning from our communities.
Davies also criticises the BACP for promoting therapies for so-called sex addiction. Despite the frequent media publicity, this is a hugely controversial topic, and currently neither the DSM-5 nor ICD-10 recognise sex addiction as a bona fide condition.
So come on, BACP and UKCP, make a clear statement that conversion therapy is wrong whether it’s done to gay people or trans people. It really isn’t difficult and you could prevent some serious harm if you do.