An open letter to the BACP

Thanks to everyone for your support on this important matter

The Queerness

The history of LGBTQ+ people and the counselling and psychotherapeutic professions is a history of pathologization, distrust and very often immense harms. Since 2015 some protection has been offered to LGB people in the UK from conversion therapy. Trans people were deliberately excluded from this protection. This weekend over 80 therapists, mental health professionals, students, and LGBTQ+ organisations are sending an open letter to the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy to call for trans people to be added to the memorandum on understanding on conversion therapy, and for better training on LGBTQ+ issues.


To: The Governors of the BACP

We, the undersigned, wish to express our deep unease with the attitude of the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy to issues of gender and sexual diversity. In particular it is very worrying that after a year of consultation there seems to be no movement on adding protection from conversion/reparative therapy to trans people. Nor does it…

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BACP seen as flawed at home and abroad

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There continues to be a lot of support for my stance and criticism not only of BACP but the training organisations that are accredited by them:

 

I’m in my second year of a Diploma in Therapeutic Counselling with an Integrative approach in London. Your post about leaving the BACP over their LGBTQ diversity issues worries me as a trainee. As I’m told at every stage I need to be BACP registered and Accredited. I’m so glad I received today the link from you and a hard copy of Therapy Today on this issue. It is so true that there is a lack of training regarding this. In our institution we have had a days session and if it wasn’t delivered from my colleague who is Trans and myself and aware of your work and other material on Gay Affirmation therapy and how Counsellors / Therapists should work with clients presenting these issues. I would hate to think what would have been delivered. We only presented to one class of three! It really seems a token gesture and not taken seriously for those in current training to challenge their own views and prejudices! 

Not sure why the lecturers didn’t deliver it? Perhaps they aren’t trained or up to date with this??? Needs to be rolled out to all institutions!

Another counsellor responded:

This is so familiar, so many people here delivered the only LGBT component of their course, as students, often having to balance outing themselves with tackling prejudice and outdated notions

Another said:

I qualified as an Integrative Counsellor in 2008. We had no training whatsoever concerning LGBTQI clients. I researched myself and went on a couple of courses with Pink Therapy. Sad to hear it seems much the same in 2016!

Some international support

I read of your resignation from the BACP today. I think you are doing the right thing, and someone of your stature doing this may possibly effect some shift, certainly makes people take notice. I am a fellow psychologist; I resigned from APA years ago due to the terrible issues around torture, failure to take treatment efficacy seriously, and also the foolhardy drive to attain prescription privileges. Better to stand apart, in my opinion, than to be associated with an unethical herd. The issues around conversion therapy are quite serious and real, and no responsible psychologist should ignore it.

and this one:

This morning I read about your resignation from the BACP, and I just want to say thank you so much.

I am lucky to be a young queer woman in Boston, where the atmosphere of most places is somewhere between tolerant and accepting. But in my experiences of mental healthcare, I’ve seen a completely different world. So many psychologists and counsellors are uneducated and untrained about LGBT+ matters, and I’ve seen so much damage done to my queer community because of it. 

I am graduating from high school in a few months, and as I head into college to major in mental health counseling and social work, I feel like it’s important to have faith in the mental healthcare world that I want to work in. It’s really hard to have that faith when I’ve already seen so many problems with the system, especially in the treatment of LGBT+ people. But actions like yours give me hope– I read your statement and remembered that systems can be changed, and the people who choose to work in the counseling world do that work because they genuinely want to help others. 

Thank you so, so much for reaffirming that for me, and thank you for the work you’re doing. I imagine it’s not easy to speak out against a group like the BACP. The LGBT+ world is lucky to have you.

On the monopoly BACP seem to have with employers:

FFS. That leaves me in a very bad situation. It’s not like I have much choice of professional organisations to belong to.

And another:

I’m not sure where else I can go in terms of membership organisations. Makes me feel angry at the conservatism of the BACP.

And another:

I’m a referral counsellor for a therapy centre based on my BACP accreditation, it would mean losing my livelihood unless I could persuade the therapy centre to accept the National Counselling Society.

What could BACP be doing?

Some people have asked me what specifically could BACP be doing to support the LGBT communities better. Here are a few suggestions to be going on with:

  1. Develop some core competencies on Equality and Diversity related issues that take account of the complexity of intersectionality.
  2. Ensure therapists receive some basic sexuality awareness training so that they can discuss sexual issues with their clients.
  3. Ensure Gender and Sexual Diversity issues are woven throughout the therapy training and not just a tokenistic add on.
  4. Closely audit the courses BACP accredit to ensure they are meeting these requirements.
  5. The training should be delivered either by faculty if they feel competent, or by external trainers. Students enrolled in the programme should not be delivering this training.
  6. As the major UK therapy organisation and therefore the wealthiest, BACP could be funding a researcher to produce an FAQ on Conversion Therapy  and develop some training materials on this subject as a resource for all of the signatory organisations and their members.
  7. Actively support people from disadvantaged and underserved communities to train as therapists.  In particular, increase the availability of  therapy from Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) and Trans and Gender Diverse counsellors.  Both groups are significantly economically disadvantaged in society and yet also have poorer mental health and so we need to ensure training isn’t only affordable by wealthy people. This is why we’re offering a couple of training bursaries for our own two-year PG Diploma in Gender and Sexual Diversity Therapy to Trans and BAME therapists.  It’s estimated that basic therapy training costs between £20-£80k and for those people who then want to go on and specialise in working with Gender, Sexual and Relationship Diverse Clients it’s going to add another £5k.

In one of my earlier blogs I mentioned how both BAATN and ourselves have set up volunteer led mentoring schemes to support those members of our communities who are training to be therapists in what can be quite alienating and hostile environments.

Dominic Davies
22 Feb 2016

Following up on BACP

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I wanted to say how incredibly moved I am by the level of support I’ve received since announcing my resignation from BACP yesterday.  I had no idea that my social media influence was quite so effective and I’ve been overwhelmed by the positive comments of gratitude for taking a principled stand and raising awareness of their failure to address the mental health needs of our community.

Concerned colleagues and BACP members have written an open letter to the Board of Governors.  If you wish to join the Pink Therapy closed Facebook group (aimed at therapists working with GSD clients) and follow the discussion click here.

I have also been deeply saddened by seeing the high level of disaffection with BACP – the largest counselling and psychotherapy body in the UK.

“..Removing yourself from such an organisation and doing so publicly gives a voice to all those lgbtq people who have suffered from BACP’s heel dragging and it also empowers the new Society by having you give authority and credence to its stand on issues of sexuality, orientation, and expression.”

I’ve sat by for almost 35  long years hoping BACP would do the right thing and address the issues of improving the quality of mental health provision for LGBT people. 

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.

Sadly this is not the case.  They’ve done very little over these three decades to raise the standards of counsellor training to help therapists feel more comfortable discussing sex and relationship issues let alone anything less mainstream like Gender, Sexual and Relationship Diversities (GSRD).  I’ve written about this before: Not in Front of the Students in 2007.  Nothing’s changed as Meg-John Barker and I reported last year in an article on the UKCP Journal The Psychotherapist 

Meanwhile I’ve ploughed my own furrow and made way for a new generation of GSRD therapists and had the privilege of training and working alongside many of them. Developing courses to fill the gap left by the heteronormative mainstream has failed to address.

As Audre Lorde said:
“For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. Racism and homophobia are real conditions of all our lives in this place and time. I urge each one of us here to reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside herself and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives here. See whose face it wears. Then the personal as the political can begin to illuminate all our choices.”

It’s fascinating that BACP has never sought to create a division around gender and sexual diversity issues.  The old PSRF (Personal, Sexual, Relationship and Family) division got rebranded ‘Private Practice’ and there was, for a few years a RACE division but that limped along poorly supported and so as Lorde predicted, the queers and those of colour created their own spaces for support, training and development.  The Black and Asian Therapists Network (BAATN) is a thriving active body which meets regularly in London (co-incidentally in the same building as we run our training workshops).

Over the years, largely because of the lack of attention to diversity, I have programmed many large conferences addressing gender, sexuality and relationship diversity issues.  Personally taking the risk of financial loss if they’re not well enough attended (and one of these cost me £3k of my savings).  I am enormously committed to improving the quality of therapy available and the training of therapists has been a major focus of my career. Pink Therapy receives no grants or external funding.  It’s entirely funded from training course fees and directory membership fees. We’ve also followed BAATN’s lead and developed a mentoring scheme because of the endemic homophobia, biphobia and transphobia many counsellors feel in their training courses. 

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.

Conversion therapy in the UK is also on a pretty small scale and I’m not sure there has been much ‘evidence base’ for that apart from Bartlett et al who found appalling levels of ignorance amongst mainstream counsellors responding to requests for reduction in their same-sex attractions.  But these therapists wouldn’t have said they were doing “conversion therapy” which is a term largely used by fundamentalist Christians or the Orthodox Jewish organisation Jonah.  Conversion therapy IS big business in the USA but here in the UK it’s more that well meaning, under-trained therapists agree to try to help a distressed client manage their same sex attractions by encouraging them towards heterosexuality.  This is highly analogous to CAMS and other therapists working with children and families who present with gender non-conforming behaviour brought by their concerned parents worried that their child might be gay or trans and being advised to discourage cross gender play. 

I am looking forward to taking up membership of what seems a much more supportive and progressive, albeit smaller counselling body – the National Counselling Society who have a policy of accepting members who are already accredited elsewhere in at the same level as they were.  So in addition to my existing membership and Senior Accreditation with the National Council of Psychotherapists (who few people seem to know about), I will become enjoy Senior Accreditation and continue to be on the PSA Register.  It was tempting to consider joining one of the more renegade groups of therapists like the Independent Practitioners Network, whom I have enormous respect for, but actually I want to be able to try to influence the profession by being a member of a larger body where we can hopefully raise awareness of equality and difference.

I was very troubled to hear though, how BACP seem to be holding a monopoly on who employers recognise as being THE accrediting/registering body for the profession.  One person commented on my post that he didn’t feel he could leave BACP as the NHS (in Wales) wouldn’t recognise membership of any other professional counselling/therapy body.  


Another respondent said: I’m a referral counsellor for a therapy centre based on my BACP accreditation, it would mean losing my livelihood unless I could persuade the therapy centre to accept the National Counselling organisation that Dominic mentioned…certainly needs to be thought through before I make any moves as I’m not in a financial position just to leave here not to mention all of the clients I currently see here, many of whom are trans or LGB…

Finally one last significant peeve I have with BACP is how they have been actively promoting the concept of “Sexual Addiction” by holding training events around this subject.  Sexual Addiction is a highly contentious and controversial subject – where there is no treatment evidence base or even any widely accepted diagnostic criteria and was declined inclusion in the DSM V on this basis.  Yet BACP seems to be happy to encourage their members to treat something which most informed clinical sexologists are highly sceptical of.  If you wish to read more about The Myth of Sexual Addiction see David Ley’s helpful book

Dominic Davies
18 Feb 2016

Why I am resigning from the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy

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I feel incredibly let down by my professional body – an organisation I have been a member of for almost 35 years and where I am a Senior Accredited Counsellor/Psychotherapist and a Fellow.  They have indicated that they are likely NOT to be signing up for a revised Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy which would be extended to include trans and asexuality.

I am so frustrated by their constant inaction and lack of understanding the issues that I am resigning.  Here are some of the reasons why:
As LGB and T people are over represented in the therapy-consuming population, due to demonstrably higher levels of mental distress and self harm there is an obvious and urgent need for counsellors to be able to provide skilled therapeutic support. 

This is a rapidly changing field in terms of our knowledge about gender and sexual minority groups, language and concepts are continuously shifting especially with regard to trans issues.

There has been fairly recent legislation affecting LGB and T people’s rights, which therapists are likely to be unaware of.  BACP has an obligation to ensure that therapists are to be kept up to date on all this.

Consistently research has demonstrated that LGB and T people have felt poorly served by therapists.  As BACP is the largest counselling professional body it’s likely to be the case that there will be a great many members who have not responded appropriately. 

In case you’re interested: Cordelia Galgut researched lesbians experiences of therapy, Iggi Moon conducted research into therapists attitudes to bisexuality, Tina Livingstone did a similar study but exploring therapists attitudes to trans people.  Karen Pollock researched how comfortable suicidal trans people felt about seeking counselling. Bartlett et al did a large study on the response of mental health professionals to clients seeking help to change sexual orientation ALL found appalling attitudes by counselling professionals to gender, sexual and relationship diverse groups.

The MoU v1 items 18 and 19 make it an obligation that members of the signatory bodies i.e. BACP counsellors should be adequately trained to know how to best respond when someone presents with confusion over their sexual orientation or is seeking a reduction in their same sex attraction or a ‘cure’.

“18 Those with a responsibility for training will work to ensure that trainings prepare therapists to sufficient levels of cultural competence so they can work effectively with LGB clients;

19 Training organisations will refer to the British Psychological Society guidelines on working with gender and sexual minority clients when reviewing their curriculum on equality and diversity issues;”

BACP took two years to resolve a case where someone (an undercover journalist investigating gay cure therapy in Britain) sought the help of a BACP Senior Accredited therapist (Lesley Pilkington) and was offered ‘gay cure’ therapy.  One of the major obstructions in the complaints process was to be able to find an unbiased/neutral complaints panel. I think BACP were also very scared that Pilkington was being defended by the Christian Legal Centre. BACP subsequently wrote to all members making it clear members were not to engage in reparative therapy, but have done very little to improve the confidence of therapists to know how best to respond to such requests from clients since then.

“14: For organisations with practitioner members, each will review their statements of ethical practice, and consider the need for the publication of a specific ethical statement concerning conversion therapy”

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 think BACP are failing to support their members in learning how best to respond to gender, sexual and relationship diverse clients.  The occasional article in the Therapy Today does not count as adequate attention to the training and development needs of it’s members.

It’s my view that BACP has become a large bureaucracy which has failed to use it’s power and resources to address the failures of the counselling profession to improve the quality of therapy for gender, sexuality and relationship diverse clients. 

The decision as to whether to re-sign for an revised MoU inclusive of Trans and Asexuality has been referred to the Board of Governors who meet in March.  It’s been indicated to me that it’s likely they will feel signing up will not be consistent with BACP’s policy and practice.  I seriously doubt the Governors of BACP will be a particularly well informed group of individuals who will have their finger on the pulse regarding trans and asexuality issues so this a great way for the Executive of BACP to pass the buck. I’d be curious to see any briefing papers they have prepared for the Board on the issues involved in whether to sign back up to MoU v2.

I was proud to be made a Fellow of BACP back in 2007 for my “distinguished service to the field” but that award has been pretty hollow given how BACP have rarely sought advice and guidance on what they might need to be doing to meet the needs of their membership with regard to helping counsellors improve the mental health of our communities. 

My BACP membership is due for renewal next month, but I will not be renewing and I will instead be taking up membership of a smaller but much more responsive professional body – the National Counselling Society who have indicated that they have voted for an inclusive MoU v.2 and that my status of a Senior Accredited member can be transferred to their organisation and that their Professional Standards Committee would welcome my application for a Fellowship.  They are also keen to have have my expertise contribute to the way the organisation might support their members.

Perhaps other disaffected members of BACP might want to consider whether they want to continue their membership!


Dominic Davies

17 Feb 2016