Religious agendas disguised as counselling

Last month I wrote about a counsellor, Lesley Pilkington, who aims to turn gay people straight as part of a thinly-veiled religious agenda. She’d previously been struck off by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. Until recently she was instead with the Association for Christian Counselling, probably the only professional body that would have her. Now she’s been kicked out by them too.

It turns out Pilkington and her ilk are not the only “counsellors” who are motivated by religious beliefs at the possible expense of the client. This was pointed out to me by Dr Brooke Magnanti, who you all know as Belle de Jour of blog, books and TV series fame, though these days she’s an academic researcher rather than a sex worker. A recent Telegraph investigation recorded counsellors at so-called Crisis Pregnancy Centres telling women that if they have an abortion they’re more likely to become a child sex abuser or to develop cancer. Needless to say, neither of these are true.

Magnanti points out that these counsellors are employed by an organisation with a very clear social agenda.

The vast majority of such ‘clinics’ in the UK (scare quotes because the counsellors are neither medical nor mental health professionals) are run by CareConfidential, an offshoot company originally founded by Christian Action Research and Education (CARE).

What are CARE’s other big interests? Well, they are also the secretariat for the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade. This APPG aims to promote the so-called Swedish Model, beloved of both the far right and radical feminists…

They were also deeply involved in supporting Section 28, the law which served to effectively silence any mention of homosexuality in schools and other public institutions until 2003.

A bit of Googling also reveals that they funded interns to 20 MPs and, as with Pilkington, they’ve promoted gay-to-straight conversion therapies. They’ve published research criticising the lack of tax breaks for stay-at-home parents.

This is an organisation that has a very specific idea of how society should be, and is actively campaigning for  it….no gays, no sex workers, no double-income families…and of course, no abortions. And that’s how one ends up at a situation where a “counsellor” is telling someone that if they have an abortion, they could become a child sex abuser.

Counselling is, in theory at least, supposed to be an emancipatory process that enables individuals to understand their own thoughts and feelings, to reflect upon and effectively make life choices. It should be to empower the client in relation to their own self, not to be railroaded along somebody else’s agenda.

But organisations like CARE can still call their staff counsellors because neither “counsellor” nor “psychotherapist” are protected titles, though Geraint Davies MP has a private members bill for regulation of counselling and psychotherapy. I’m aware that if his bill passes then CARE’s staff and the likes of Lesley Pilkington will simply call themselves coaches, advisers, mentors, whatever – and carry on practicing. But they won’t be able to use the word “counsellor” with all that’s assumed to mean by people who seek one out.

In the meantime, if you see a counsellor or psychotherapist, you should only use one who is with an accredited voluntary register such as the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.

 

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Professional Standards Authority condemns gay conversion therapies

Yesterday I posted about how the Association for Christian Counselling has banned so-called “conversion” or “reparative” therapies that aim to turn gay people straight –  (this has also been reported in the Guardian). Lesley Pilkington, a counsellor who practices reparative therapy, had previously joined the ACC after being struck off by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy over the issue.

I’d speculated that this decision may be linked to the ACC’s application to become an “accredited voluntary register” with the Professional Standards Authority. Today, the PSA contacted me to confirm that this is indeed the case.

“The Professional Standards Authority believes gay conversion therapy is inconsistent with our obligations under the Equality Act. As part of the process of assessing its application for accreditation, we raised the issue of conversion therapy and its implications for public protection with the Association of Christian Counsellors. We were pleased to see the unequivocal statement from the Association of Christian Counsellors rejecting conversion therapy. This is an example of the Accredited Voluntary Registers scheme improving standards without the need for regulation.”

 

In addition, Lesley Pilkington has confirmed to me that her membership of the ACC has been revoked over the issue.

Personally, I agree with the PSA that AVR is driving up standards in counselling and psychotherapy – but only up to a point. AVR forced the UK Council for Psychotherapy to radically overhaul their complaints procedures, and now it’s prompted the ACC to ban gay conversion therapy.

But we’re talking about voluntary rather than statutory registers. “Counsellor” and “psychotherapist” are not protected titles. Ms Pilkington can still practice and advertise her services as a counsellor, even though she’s been expelled from two organisations.

While we’re on the subject, in October 2013 Julia Eastwood was struck off by the UK Council for Psychotherapy. She’s still advertising herself for counselling and psychotherapy.

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She’s also advertising herself as a “conscious channel for the Archangel Gabriel”, though to be fair, I doubt there’ll be much call to make that a protected title.

On 24th January there’s a second reading for Geraint Davies MP’s private members bill to bring in statutory regulation of psychotherapy. Personally, I think all counsellors and psychotherapists should support it. The use of AVR has already done a lot to drive up standards in the professional bodies – to the point that I suspect state regulation might not make much difference to the practice of someone registered with the BACP, UKCP or ACC. But giving these professions a statutory backbone would mean that when someone says they’re a counsellor or psychotherapist, then that means something. That has to be good both for the counselling and psychotherapy professions and for the public.

Praying away the gay

As regular readers will know, I’ve covered the UK Council for Psychotherapy’s journey towards being accredited by the Professional Standards Authority. The professions of counselling and psychotherapy have no statutory regulator, though a private members bill by Geraint Davies MP, which calls for state regulation, is approaching its second reading in Parliament. Voluntary registers do exist, such as the the UKCP and the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, and the PSA has introduced a system of “Assured Voluntary Registration” where they will accredit these registers if they meet certain standards. Several counselling and psychotherapy organisations, including the UKCP and BACP, are now accredited.

I recently discovered that another organisation, the Association for Christian Counselling, is applying for accreditation. I then discovered that on their register is a counsellor by the name of Lesley Pilkington, who was struck off by the BACP for offering so-called “reparative therapy”, which aims to turn gay people straight.

Reparative therapy, also known as conversion therapy, is controversial, to put it mildly. The UKCP, the BACP, the British Psychological Society, the British Psychoanalytic Council, the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the Department of Health have all condemned it. They all view it as both unethical and harmful, and argue in favour of promoting inclusivity and respect for gay people rather trying to make them change their orientation.  Geraint Davies’ bill includes a clause specifically banning such therapies.

Due to the voluntary nature of psychotherapy bodies, being struck off by one body doesn’t necessarily mean that a therapist can’t join another one – though if they were two PSA-accredited bodies, the PSA has stated that they “would expect AVRs to work in partnership to protect the public”. Until recently the Association for Christian Counselling was the only major therapy organisation not to ban conversion therapies, which perhaps makes it unsurprising that Ms Pilkington joined the ACC after being struck off by the BACP.

I e-mailed Ms Pilkington, who replied confirming that she’s still an advocate of conversion therapy.

I believe that if anyone is distressed by their unwanted same sex attraction they should have the right to help and therapy. That is the issue essentially for which I have been expelled by BACP, after a complaint was made by a gay journalist posing as a ‘client’ who told me he was distressed by his same sex attraction. It was all a lie as his stated and written intention was to close down people like me and in that he has been very successful. For the moment the agenda is very much with him and people like me form a minority (and persecuted) view. But should we not have this view in a diverse and pluralistic society. It seems not.Human rights exist for some but not for others like real clients who now are to afraid to come for therapy.

The journalist she refers to is the Independent’s Patrick Strudwick. It’s true that Strudwick used subterfuge by going to her posing as a client, though I suspect Mr Strudwick would probably respond that undercover journalism is considered ethical when investigating matters of public interest. He has reported that Pilkington suggested to him that he was sexually abused and could have been exposed to freemasonry as a child (neither of which happened to him.)

Unfortunately for Pilkington, in recent weeks the ACC has also put out a statement banning gay conversion therapies.

Members who are considering using this model of therapy should neither commence nor continue to use it and any advertising or promotional material should be replaced immediately, or at least removed from current use. This includes the ACC “Find a counsellor” facility on our website.

Such instructions are likely to affect Ms Pilkington, as can be seen from this screenshot that I took at the weekend.

Screenshot from 2014-01-11 10:54:01

 

Ms Pilkington doesn’t seem inclined to take it lying down. She told me, “I will be releasing my own statement soon; its all happening right now. Indeed there is a ‘fight’ going on and I will explain why and the implications.”

As well as Ms Pilkington, an evangelical group, the Core Issues Trust is also objecting to the ban. They ask the ACC to “take up with the Professional Standards Authority” their objections. I’m presuming from those words (though I’m currently awaiting confirmation from the PSA) that there’s probably been some discussions between the PSA and the ACC about conversion therapies.

I e-mailed the ACC to ask their view. They sent me the following reply.

You may like to know that over recent months ACC has been conducting a review and a statement sent to all its members last Friday and published on our website today.

The reference to a certain individual named by yourself is not on a register but a ‘find a counsellor facility’ and should at present, due to constant review at this time of year, be checked each day for accuracy. We trust this enables you to complete your article.

That struck me as a little cryptic, so I re-checked their ‘find a counsellor’ facility today. Her name no longer appears on there.

With these new developments, this means that no UK counselling or psychotherapy organisation of any significance endorses conversion therapies. The message is now clear. Praying away the gay is not a valid therapeutic intervention.