Report from the World Association of Sexual Health (WAS) Congress

I’m just back from what was an absolute Peak Experience in taking a team of people to the World Association for Sexual Health (WAS) 24th Congress in Mexico City. WAS happens every two years and moves around the world. This year 1500 people were attending from some 70 countries.

Pink Therapy is a member of WAS, and we were invited to submit a proposal for a symposium. I proposed, and was accepted for a six presentation (90 minutes) symposium entitled Reflections from the Rainbow. I chose a range of presenters from our faculty, alumni and students, and we had an incredible team.

Pink Therapy’s Symposium Reflections from the Rainbow

The last time it happened you may recall, I was given just a four-minute Brief Communication in Prague. So it was with great delight that I got to programme a full 90 mins and expand my presentation time to 15 minutes.

 I am incredibly grateful to so many generous colleagues, and friends who donated £2000 to my GoFundMe fundraiser to help me be able to afford to participate in this momentous event. Having previously self-funded all other conferences (national and international) it was an absolute joy to have such incredible support.

You can hear a practice recording of my own presentation here. We have put the rest of the presentation’s slides on the private Pink Therapy Group on Facebook. If you are a therapist and haven’t yet joined you’re missing out on some great information. You just need to answer some brief screening questions to join the other 1200 therapists around the world who got there before you!

In addition to the Symposium team, we were joined by two other colleagues connected to Pink Therapy, who presented posters at the conference: Claudio Martinez is currently on our Foundation programme and Tyler Thompson conducted some pioneering research into gay male therapists use of Grindr which I referred to in my own presentation.

Out of the eight of us, we had three full professors, two clinical psychologists, five sexologists, coming from six different countries (Chile, Colombia, Italy, Poland, UK and USA!) Having such a large team meant we weren’t all able to be together for social drinks and meals. Still, we did manage one’ family night’ where almost everyone came to either pre-dinner cocktails or dinner itself).

A picture of some of the symposium presenters relaxing after dinner
The Rainbow team relaxing!

We presented during the Monday afternoon, and by then most of us had been hanging out for a few days. So there was an incredible camaraderie, and we were feeling pretty relaxed. The presentations all ran to time, and everyone presented some really excellent content. I was feeling incredibly proud of everyone’s hard work, and we were mobbed after the panel with people eager to make contact and ask questions.

Proud and happy faces after the panel 
Left to Right: 
Agata Loewe, Dominic Davies, Doug Braun-Harvey, Markie Twist, Miguel Rueda, Antonio Prunas
Proud and happy faces after the panel
Left to Right:
Agata Loewe, Dominic Davies, Doug Braun-Harvey, Markie Twist, Miguel Rueda, Antonio Prunas

While at WAS, Pink Therapy also launched a collaboration between The Harvey Institute and Pink Therapy, which Doug Braun-Harvey has written exclusively for Pink Therapy. This is an online study module on Treating Out of Control Sexual Behaviour based on a sexual health model which he and Michael Vigorito have written about in their best-selling book. The course features over 30 video lectures by Doug, presenting the theory, screening, assessment, and illustrating the whole protocol with a case example plus some guided reading. It also has AASECT CEU’s attached and will be available for purchase and download from 1st at November at https://pinktherapy.org/ocsb/

Dominic and Doug launch their treating out of control sexual behaviour module

Collaboration is at the heart of so much that we do at Pink Therapy, and WAS demonstrated the amazing things we can achieve when we work together.

Feeling despondent

Despondent Dominic!

I’ve heard some strange and troubling things in my career from clients, and friends about their previous therapists, and a recent example from one middle-aged man that his former therapist didn’t think he was gay because he initiates sex with his wife! It prompted me to ask some of my colleagues about their experiences, and many of their examples alarmed me and redoubled my passion for training therapists to work more effectively with their Gender, Sexuality and Relationship Diverse (GSRD) clients.

As readers of this blog will know, Pink Therapy has been an active member of a coalition working group of all the leading psy/therapy organisations discussing steps to bring about the end of Conversion Therapy for gender and sexual diversity. The Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy states:

To this end, we are running running three workshops around the country for therapy trainers to come and share what they’ve already been doing that works well and learn more about a four-stage training model I have developed over my almost 40-year career in delivering training to therapists in this area. We’re holding in London, Manchester and Glasgow because we think face-to-face contact will be more effective at creating the depth of discussion necessary and allowing networks to be built between cisgender heterosexual and LGBT trainers. three, two-day training workshops

But bookings so far have been light. We’ve plastered information all over the Facebook counselling groups, and LinkedIn, we’ve shared the information with the Coalition signatories. The National Counselling Society have told their members and accredited training courses about the workshop. We’ve directly emailed the BACP Accredited courses. I had hoped that by now, the London course would be full, as it is happening in the middle of next month. While we’re oversubscribed on requests from LGBT therapists to attend on training bursaries, so far, very few training courses have decided to send any of their staff (a notable exception being the Contemporary Institute for Clinical Sexology whose Director and GSRD Trainer have been active members on the Coalition working group representing COSRT).

I am still hopeful that we will get some more Counsellor Trainers eager to get a handle on how to embrace the training needs of their students in preparing them to work with GSRD clients, and to share their dilemmas and experience, but if I’m honest, I am not too optimistic.

What do you think is going on? Is it arrogance? Is it cisgender heteronormative prejudice? Is it ignorance? Is it naivety that people don’t know what they don’t know? Or that they don’t think their students need to know very much at all about working with GSRD people as we’re “all the same”? Even as I write this, I am aware it may come across as angry or off-putting. The dilemma of passionately knowing students are being let down, and clients are being harmed whilst trying to encourage those invested in the current system is one which I find myself having to navigate whenever I challenge the status quo.

It’s troubling, and I’m left wondering if we need an independent training route for people who want to specialise in working with GSRD clients because mainstream organisations are failing in their duty of care and responsibilities to prepare therapists adequately. This is something I’ve written about twice before (for Therapy Today and The Psychotherapist). Perhaps we need route that circumvents mainstream Diplomas in Counselling and Psychotherapy. However, given that the core of being person-centred is hope, a belief that positive change can occur, I cannot totally give up on my peers and contemporaries who in colleges, universities and training institutions across the land are educating the next generation of counsellors and psychotherapists. Indeed, I do not want to give up on them, these workshops are designed to support them in their work! Working as I have over the years with so many allies who have devoted their time and energy to improving the LGBT experience, I know that things can improve and have to believe that the GSRD aware trainers course can be part of that positive change and growth.

Dominic Davies
October 2019

Summer School – Miguel Rueda Saenz

I HAD A DREAM!

Dr Miguel Rueda Saenz

I had a dream since university when I began my professional studies in psychology. That dream was about becoming a therapist and undertaking postgraduate studies in London. I did it! In 1998 I had the opportunity to go to London and start what was at that time, my first postgraduate course, not realising that it was a foundation course in the fundamentals of psychotherapy and counselling. Just two evenings a week, and the rest was, at least for me, a self-study process. I think I read every single article, chapter and book they recommended us at the School of Psychotherapy and Counselling, at Regent’s College. 

One afternoon, I went to Regent’s College library just for a look. I enjoyed looking for books and counting every penny and (if I was lucky) pound that I had in my pocket, to purchase an interesting book. Whilst I saw searching, I saw the rainbow flag on the cover of a book. I won’t lie to you,  my heart rate accelerated. I was very nervous, with the guy at the cash desk. I thought, “Oh God, is he looking at me? How can I take this book up there and pay for it?” I took a deep breath, took the book and shaking, walked directly to the guy. I hadn’t even read the title, the only thing that I saw was “Pink Therapy”. Afterwards, I saw the rest: “Working with gay, lesbian and bisexual clients”. When I gave this guy the book, I had to use my credit card – my father’s Colombian card, and I asked him. “Do you have credit card?” he looked at me and said with a smile, “Yes I do have a credit card.” He gently understood, that what I meant was if I could pay with my Credit Card. I bought it! And I devoured it. And sadly, I lost it on a double-decker bus. I bought it again. 

Somewhere in the book was Dominic’s e-mail. I wasn’t that brave, how I could possibly think to write to “Dr Davies?” I was brave, and one year after I left England; back in Colombia I sent him an e-mail introducing myself and telling him about my job as a clinician in Bogotá. 

Years past, and in 2009 he invited me to participate in a Pink Therapy conference in London. I was in my first year of my PhD in Colombia and my research was about the meaning of the sexual prejudice in gay, lesbians and bisexuals. Two years after that in 2011, I took the summer school course at the Pink Therapy. 

Interior Pink Consultores

Since then in 2012, I founded Pink Consultores in Bogotá – Colombia. Applying all I have learned throughout the years, hand by hand with Dominic Davies. Pink Consultores was an inspired by the Pink Therapy, it is on one hand a recognition of what I have developed as a therapist since I bought that first book, (I have the other two books as well, by the way) and, on the other hand, it is my way to contribute to Colombia. I don’t see myself as a saviour, I just realised, that I could develop a similar institution in Colombia, focused on gender, sexual and relationship diversity in South America.

It has been quite a challenge to understand the Colombian political conflict, the war, trauma, and the LGBT+ victims, and at the same time developing a way to be an openly gay therapist with an organisation looking for the health of people in terms of their gender, sexual and relationship diversity. 

I’ve started, with two colleagues in Santiago (Chile) an international research network mainly, Latin-American, to study and research psychotherapy and GSRD. We hopefully are going to be together in London, this year in July for the start of the Foundation Certificate programme.  

I still think that I have a lot more to learn from Pink Therapy is giving to us as therapists. I want to share experiences with therapists from all over the world; I want us to learn from each other.

The Summer School was a life-changing experience, it was what I needed to start that dream that I had in the 90’. Good for you and for Dominic, the clinical associates and us! You are definitely changing this world. At least, mine changed.

Miguel Rueda Sáenz, PhD

Pink Consultores Marching in Bogotá Pride

Guest Blog: Dr Igi Moon

We’re reproducing the speech Igi Moon made at the Parliamentary Launch for the new and revised Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Conversion Therapy.  This document extends the protections afforded to lesbians, gay men and bisexual people from receiving harmful attempts to be heterosexual.  This new document protects people who are gender diverse and those who are asexual from treatments from therapists.

UKParliament.jpg

Parliamentary MoU2 launch event – 4th July 2018

“I am here as Chair of the MoU Coalition against conversion therapy. The coalition is made up of 16 organisations as well as advisory bodies offering clinical and therapeutic services to LGBTQIA people. Together we represent over 100, 000 psychologists, psychotherapists, counsellors and healthcare workers.

The main purpose of today’s launch is for MP’s to meet with clinicians and campaigners ahead of the Government’s pledge to ‘end the practice of Conversion Therapy’. While the media yesterday reported an outright ban, we believe a ban will simply play into the hands of organisations that want publicity.

Yesterday – was the launch of the LGBT National survey. 108,100 people responded to the survey. It is the largest of its kind in the world. That is something all LGBT people can be proud of. But while we celebrate this survey we need to take a close look at the finer details of what it is saying about LGBT lives in our society. Because some findings make very uncomfortable reading. They tell a story that is all too familiar to LGBT people who still experience significant inequalities and fear for their personal safety – inequalities and fears that may well take them to see therapists. This is why we want all clinicians in training and practice to be made aware of the range of issues presented in the survey. And for all clinicians to be able to work competently with LGBT people

It is central that LGBT people can explore their feelings and thoughts in safety whether or not it is about their sexuality and/or gender identity with a qualified psychologist, psychotherapist, counsellor, or healthcare worker.

Shockingly, this is simply not the case. In our society, some people believe (for whatever reason) that LGBT people can be ‘cured’ of their sexuality or gender identity if they are LGBT.  Through the use of Conversion Therapy (CT), also known as Reparative or Cure Therapy). More shockingly, they believe that the techniques of CT will suppress or change an LGBT person. These techniques include anything from pseudo-psychological treatments to spiritual counselling. At their most extreme, people in the survey reported undergoing surgical or hormonal interventions or even ‘corrective rape’. It is abhorrent as a practice.

Yesterday, the survey found that a total 7% of respondents had undergone or been offered Conversion Therapy and of this, 2% had undergone and 5% had been offered CT.

It is a very live issue – with young people16-24 more likely to have been offered CT than any other group.

The MoU Coalition published this MoU before the Survey results were announced because we were faced with mounting anecdotal evidence  that we needed to protect  sexual orientation including asexuality AND the variety of gender identities

Thanks to the survey we sadly find that anecdotal evidence was correct.

The survey found

  1. In terms of sexual orientation, Asexual people are the most likely group to undergo and be offered conversion therapy
  2. In relation to Gender Identity – Trans respondents were much more likely to have undergone or been offered conversion therapy more than cis people.
  3. That more trans men have been offered CT than non-binary people or trans women
  4. That more trans women have had conversion therapy than trans men or non-binary people
  5. That those most likely to have been offered CT or undergone CT live in Northern Ireland and London

So, who conducts CT to cis and Trans people?

  1. By far the greatest are faith organisations
  2. Healthcare or a medical professional is second – (with far more trans people being offered CT than cis people)
  3. Parent or guardian or family member
  4. Person from my community
  5. Other individuals or organisations

The fact healthcare and medical professionals conduct CT is a major shock and the MOU is asking that ethical practice is at the core of therapeutic work. This means practitioners must have adequate knowledge and understanding of gender and sexual diversity throughout their training before they can be accredited, registered or chartered. BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY IT MEANS ASKING LGBT PEOPLE WHAT THEY NEED – ESPECIALLY TRANS AND NON BINARY PEOPLE.

Both the BPS and BACP have published guidelines for working with gender and sexual minorities. This is a good start but not enough.

Our Training and Curriculum Development sub-Committee find that while organisations say they want to USE THE GUIDELINES AND TRAIN PEOPLE EFFECTIVELY – IN over 7 years of training, it has been found that anything between zero and 16 hours max are spent in total teaching ‘difference’. This needs to change.

Yesterday, the overwhelming statement was

   “This practice (of CT) needs to end”

The Government Equalities Office action plan is to bring an end to the practice of CT.

We want to work with the government on legislative and non-legislative options.

At present we say no to an outright ban because CT is conducted by people who are obviously not therapists in some cases and would not call what they do anything more than a cure for a sickness. It needs more than a ban – it requires education at a young age that allows young people to be who they are without fear.

Likewise, it is still possible in this country to call yourself a counsellor or psychotherapist as these are not protected titles.  We believe that the Government must address this issue.

Where is the MOU next?

2 areas the MOU Coalition are likely to address:

Support for the GRA review because it is a once in a lifetime opportunity for trans people to experience wide ranging social change. We must recognise the variety of gender identities as valid. As the Minister for Women and Equalities the Rt Honourable Penny Mordaunt Minister stated yesterday to a ringing round of applause:  “a trans woman is a woman and a transman is a man” and we would add that those who wish to identify in the wide range of gender identities have that option. This is because the survey clearly identified that non-binary identities are on the rise and more respondents identified as non-binary

Second, we hope the General Synod will use the survey and our MoU as an opportunity to extend protection to Trans and non-binary people

Third we all – all of us have a debt to our future young people. We must remember that a central finding yesterday was 2000 people identified starting their transition AT SCHOOL. The survey only started from age 16

The MOU Coalition have brought on board those organisations such as Gendered Intelligence and Mermaids that work with young people under 16 to offer their thoughts about protecting these vulnerable children and teenagers. We are already hearing young people are the victims of Conversion therapy – sometimes in medical settings where we would expect safety. This must be investigated as a matter of urgency. We urge the Government to find out what is happening with young people who identify as LGBT and non-binary.

On a final note,

Over 2/3 of respondents stated they would not hold hands with their partner in public. It is pride on Saturday.  I want to hold hands with the person I love. On Saturday, I want us all to be able to hold hands with those we love in public and in safety because

TO LIVE IN SAFETY IS OUR FREEDOM

AND TO HAVE OUR FREEDOM IS THE GREATEST FORM OF EQUALITY WE CAN SHARE

Thanks to Ben Bradshaw MP for hosting this event, to our speakers. I would like to thank all members of the Coalition and especially Rosie Horne from the BPS for working so hard to bring this event together.

Guest Blog: Maz Michael

IMG_20160919_115130179_HDR

Talk for Pink Therapy Sex Works conference on 23rd March 2018

Welcome, my name is Maz Michael, I work as a freelance therapist in Brighton and I’m trained in Person Centred, CBT approach and EMDR modalities. It is my belief that, since the subject of embodiment (and by embodiment I mean who we are in a bodily context, particularly in relation to our sexual and gendered selves), since embodiment is typically lacking from most talking therapist training courses, this leaves talking therapists largely unprepared to engage in certain discussions with our clients for whom dialogues about embodiment could be therapeutically important.

In relation to this theme, the usefulness and relevance of embodiment training for talking therapists and clients, I occupy a number of spaces: I’m an accredited therapist, an Urban Tantra staff team member, a facilitator of bodily based breathwork practices and I identify as a non-binary trans person.

I hadn’t reflected too much on these various identities before because they feel like they naturally coexist, in the same way that the mind and the body co-exist. Yet I know that the idea of a talking therapist also being a sex positive, body positive training course member and a facilitator is somewhat contentious. Because of my own experiences of embodiment and my professional interest in this area, I have focussed this talk primarily on why I think courses like Urban Tantra (and I will explain in a minute what Urban Tantra is) why such courses could be useful for gender non-conforming people and for the therapists who work with them, although I do think that such training can be useful for many other people too.

So, this is where I’m drawing from, I work therapeutically with people in different ways, and in addition to my talking therapy trainings, I am trained as a rebirthing breathwork practitioner (rebirthing breathwork is a type of breathing that uses breath to release distress and trauma). I am also trained in facilitating an erotic breathwork practice, sometimes known as the Firebreath, as taught on the Urban Tantra program. Neither of these breathwork practices involves any touch or nudity and, as such, I do not work hands on with any clients but I have taught these breathwork practices to individuals and groups. I do not, however, offer breathwork experiences to talking therapy clients or vice versa.

In deciding how to approach this talk, I’ve drawn from my own attempts to find safe and supportive embodiment courses in which I can explore my own, sexual, spiritual self. Frustratingly, on this journey,  I’ve often been met with conventional ideas about gender, such as the assumption that genitals equal gender, i.e. that a person with a penis must be a man and a person with a vagina must a female and that there are only two genders i.e. that gender is a binary of male and female. I have sometimes felt embarrassed and self-conscious on some embodiment courses because of these simplistic assumptions about gender and my uncomfortableness and anger has motivated me to remain in that world but with the hope that my presence on some Urban Tantra training can help other gender non-conforming people to feel that they may find a place of belonging there too.

In the same way that most tantra type training fails to understand and accommodate the needs of gender diverse people, so too out in the world this is often the case. Gender non-conforming people are regularly under attack for self-defining our gender and I feel that there is something especially harsh about the fact that the very places that we might find sanctuary from the discriminatory world and experience pleasure in our bodies are too often places that further alienate. As Canadian Sexological Bodywork trainer, Caffyn Jesse, states: ‘’The massage studio can be a safe haven where a gender pioneer can relax into embodied exploration. Or it can be another piece of oppression.’’ (Erotic Massage for Healing and Pleasure.p137)

So, I believe that most talking therapist training and most embodiment training have something in common, they invariably fail to understand and to accommodate the needs of gender non-conforming people. One of the few embodiment training spaces where I have found that this is not the case is Urban Tantra.

So what is Urban Tantra?

The term was coined by American Sex Educator, Barbara Carrellas. In her workshops, professional training and books, Barbara does not especially privilege genital touch or sensation but instead looks at the capacity that the whole body possesses to experience erotic pleasure. Barbara also makes links between tantra and consensual BDSM practices as both she says utilise ‘’a powerful dynamic for erotic or spiritual purposes’’ (Urban Tantra.p 202). Barbara also teaches erotic breathwork practices that do not require genital stimulation. The focus on the breath and the whole body, as distinct from the genitals alone, as a potential source of pleasure, has obvious advantages for anyone who does not want or cannot have genitally based sex. Like with the professional therapy code of ethics, Urban Tantra similarly has a set of values that participants and graduates are expected to adhere to which include: Consent between people as an ongoing agreement which can be modified or withdrawn at any point, a strict Safer Sex protocol and the welcoming of people of all genders, sexual orientations, sexual preferences. Barbara’s interest in breathing and in the whole body, as distinct from the genitals alone, as a potential source of pleasure emerged during the 80’s when the AIDS epidemic exploded in America and, as a result, the need for a safer form of sexuality was vital; so, UT has queer roots.

So why might training like Urban Tantra be useful for gender diverse people?

Gender diverse people inhabit bodies that are marginalised by society and more so, of course, if that gender diverse body is differently abled or a person of colour’s body or, indeed, a working-class person’s body. Trans bodies are strangely both de-sexualised and hyper-sexualised. De-sexualisation of our bodies occurs I believe when the body is framed exclusively medical terms i.e. the body as the recipient of hormones and/or surgery. Hyper-sexualisation of certain trans bodies is obvious, for example, as in porn that features ‘’chicks with dicks’’. Trans author and activist, Kate Bornstein states that the trans body is viewed with both revulsion and desire (Gender Outlaw page 93).

So, gender diverse people are both off limits and on limits, we can be asked about our bodies anytime; I once read some assessment notes in which an assessor had asked a trans person ‘what stage of transition are you at?’ when, in fact, the prospective client, who was transmasculine and had a full beard, was not wanting therapy for anything to do with them being trans. Can you imagine for one minute in a therapy assessment a cis-gendered client (that is a client whose gender identity corresponds to their birth sex), can you image them being asked out of the blue and totally irrelevant to their presenting issue: ‘What does your naked body look like, especially your chest/breasts and genitals?’

Given the societal ambivalence about trans bodies, I believe that the very decision to announce ones trans identity is a profound act of self-actualisation as is the courage to challenge normative notions of embodiment (and I will talk a little bit about that in a minute).  Typically, self-actualisation is regarded as a psychological process that is facilitated by psychological means exclusively and yet bodywork courses can help all people to self-actualise just like good psychological therapists can. I think in some ways that good embodiment trainings are good because they have the capacity and willingness to offer the Core Conditions especially that of Unconditional Positive Regard i.e. they do not judge the participant nor impose reality from the outside but rather they adopt an open, excited and inquisitive stance towards each participant and are ready to be led by them. In Urban Tantra training, Barbara Carrellas delivers an Erotic Awakening massage for gender non-conforming people. This massage is totally guided by the recipient, the recipient is asked what names if any they may have for their body parts, what body parts are off limits if any. This is an erotic touch that led by the subjective experiencing of the recipient. This approach fosters the idea that each person will be the best expert on their body and their capacity to generate and experience erotic pleasure.

Trans people are sometimes wonderfully creative beings and often we have had to be in order to find ways to navigate this societal ambivalence towards our bodies. Sometimes we challenge the very notion of the body:  we may rename our genitals not as penis and vagina but as something else completely. What we mean by genitals may not even be the physical flesh at all; for example, genitals may mean the use of prosthetics, dildoes and I have worked with a number gender non-conforming clients who have spoken about of the importance of clothing as it relates to their sense of body. For some trans people, the body may be experienced more as an energetic phenomenon than as the physical flesh.

In her 2016 survey entitled: How Trans Women, Trans Men and People of Nonbinary Gender Experience their Genitals, Barbara Carrellas found that the majority of respondents experienced ‘’energy genitals’’, that is, the sensation of having genitals in a different size, shape or configuration than the ones grown by one’s own body.

And in their book, Trans like me, academic, musician and activist, C.N. Lester, who is non-binary, trans-identified mentions the term the ‘’proprioceptive body’’ proprioception means the ‘perception or awareness of the position and movement of the body in space’’, it is a sort of ‘’sensory map’’. In other words, it refers to a body that is not physical flesh and in this regards it could be seen as a similar to the idea of energy genitals; for some trans people, the sensed body is more real than what is there in a physical form. On the subject of the body, queer author, Sassafras Lowry, states: ‘’I’ve gazed on as dysphoria dissipated under the realisation that body need not be flesh I was born with, that body need not be made of skin at all’’. In Urban Tantra training the clothed body might be understood as more congruent than the naked body for some people. So, clothing/costume/prosthetics/breathwork/energy work is welcomed and encouraged as they can all be ways of experiencing the erotic body. Within this framework, clothing becomes expression rather than concealment. This is contrary to most embodiment training that tend to privilege full or partial nudity and tactile contact over energetic arousal.

I want to talk a bit about self-pleasure, masturbation…

I have worked with gender non-conforming clients who have talked about how self-pleasure, is hugely therapeutic for them. Sometimes clients talk about depression and anxiety lifting as a result of self-pleasuring and that they feel more human, less dysphoric, I need to be able to dialogue with such clients there in their expression; masturbation can be an act that promotes personal well-being and I as a therapist should not stand in the way of this client’s exploration by avoiding such conversations. As Latinx activist and artist, Ignacio Rivera states: ‘’Positive or radical sexuality begins from within…it is the sexual place that allows you to feel comfort, have agency..this is radical because it is reclaiming one’s body that has been probed by society and the state. It is power and that transcends into supporting mental health, healthy relationships and self-esteem.’’.

A unique feature of UT is that it encourages participants to create from the material of their own lives, to develop erotic spaces and practices based on our own needs and own imaginations rather than to follow a prescribed formula. After I got frustrated at the narrowness and exclusivity of embodied workshops and trainings I didn’t want to keep feeling excluded and self-conscious but also wanted to experience some kind of sharing of erotic space with my fellow queers. As such, I had the idea of starting a non-binary trans self-pleasure group with a number of friends of mine because I couldn’t find what I wanted out in the world of embodiment courses because of the assumptions made about my gender. One of the many realisations from this group is that how we experience self -pleasure is as varied as the number of us in the group. What has happened in this group is that we have learned to trust our expression of our sexuality in the company of each other. I think such groups, which are not really new, (Betty Dodson started masturbation workshops for women back in the 1960s) such groups can help people, particularly people from marginalised intersections, to let go of what we carry in the world at least for a time. Such groups can act as a stepping stone for erotic intimacy with another or just be complete in themselves. Urban Tantra courses typically create for a short time a similar space a queer-affirming space and the support for participants to then go forward and to birth into the world what we envision based on our own knowledge and experience.

I wonder how we can talk about depression or anxiety, as it may manifest for anyone, without also considering that person’s embodied reality and their relationship to their sexuality or asexuality? As for talking therapists, if we are not willing to explore embodiment with our clients, I believe we are severely limiting our therapeutic usefulness to many clients, especially many trans clients. I am not saying that all trans clients will always have a problematic relationship with our bodies, but I am saying that whilst the body is present for everyone and will inform everyone’s narratives about who we are to a greater or lesser extent, it is more a point of reference for trans clients because of the creative inter-relationship between the mind and the body that is a defining feature of trans experience. Embodiment is a hugely significant factor in trans experience and, as such, this calls for us as psychological therapists to move beyond the notion of only allowing themes of sex and embodiment into the therapy room if it’s about sexual abuse, sex addiction or sexual dysfunction or indeed if we are trained specifically as psychosexual therapist. At the time of writing this, I glanced at the latest copy of Therapy Today (the BACP monthly journal) to see if there were any references to sex. This is what I found: one ad. for ‘Sex and Porn Addiction training’, one ad. for ‘Workshop for survivors of sexual abuse..’, and two ads for training in Psychosexual therapy. What I think is missing is an atmosphere in the psychological therapy world in which pleasure in our embodiment and pleasure in our erotic arousal is regarded as a key therapeutic feature for many people.

I want to talk now a bit about why courses like UT could potentially be useful for psychological therapists. I’ve already identified the bias that I see within the therapy world, that of sex and embodiment as typically discussed only in relation to abuse or addiction. I know from my own experience and from what I’ve heard from others that most counselling training courses do not even teach about sexuality or embodiment unless they are specifically psychosexual trainings. I think that attending an Urban Tantra course could be personally and professionally very useful to a practising therapist. Last year I staffed at the UT professional training program in Sweden. The group comprised of approximately a 50/50 split of cis-gendered and gender non-conforming/nb/trans participants. Virtually all of the cis-gendered participants expressed their awareness of ways in which their sense of their own gender and embodiment had been informed by societal normativity and that when, as a result of the Urban Tantra training, they had had an experience of imagining other gender possibilities for themselves they found a profound sense of freedom. Barbara teaches what she calls the Gender Walk (it was invented by Barbara and her life partner Kate Bornstein). It involves taking a slow, very conscious walk from one side of a line over to the other side and into imagining a different gender experience. The gender walk plus spending 6 days with gender non-conforming people thinking about and experiencing embodiment exercises changed people’s assumptions about what gender is and can be. Gender is not, of course, only a theme for trans people, an exploration of our gendered selves (as well as other identities we claim) can be hugely beneficial for most people I feel. I also think that an exploration of our own sexual/erotic selves in a safe, supportive space can help us both personally and professionally as therapists.

In preparing this talk, I’ve been aware of my own working-class based anxieties throughout the process. My first thought, which has endured throughout this process, was fear that I’m not an academic, I can’t face a crowd of people and deliver something with academic soundness; but then I realised that I wasn’t being asked to deliver an academic paper but to speak at a conference called Sex Works and about the relationship between embodiment therapies and psychological therapies. Then another fear emerged, how would my therapy colleagues see me? Would I tell my work colleagues that I was doing this? How would they react? With embarrassment? Ridicule? Humour? Contempt? Then I realised that this was also related to being trans and of feeling other. Would I be viewed as a therapy freak for agreeing to do it? As I have said, I think we can’t really separate tension and anxiety from inhabiting bodies that are subject to oppression. As the queer photographer, writer and body image activist, Vivian McMaster, states of queer people ‘’We live tensely’’ as a result of our marginalised identities.

At the end of the day we are all trying to understand each other so being open to moving beyond the mind versus body binary is a step in that direction. Kate Bornstein states:

I think its time for us to use our status as Third (by which she means not simplistically male or female) to bring some harmony in the world. Like other border outlaws, trans people are here to open some doorway that has been closed off for a long time. (p127 gender outlaw).

The distinction between psychological therapy on the one side and

the embodied therapy on the other side is another false binary. I’ll end with two quotes from the excellent Queer Body Love interview series (and if you haven’t checked out QBL please do, it’s the creation of Elizabeth Cooper): the first quote is from that series and is from author, artist and activist: Sonia Renee Taylor: ‘’radical self-love is the unencumbered understanding of my worth, health and divinity, the thoughts that counter that are not mine and I am not obligated to keep them’’.

The second quote is also from the Queer Body Love interview series and is a self-defined Somatic Teacher of Erotic Possibilities and social justice warrior, M’kali-Hashiki, on challenging the theme of self-care as simply indulgence:

once society tells you that it is not safe to be in your body then what’s the benefit to being in the body? I don’t want to be a target. Maybe I get some relief from enjoying this targeted body

I believe we all have the right to enjoy our bodies and that embodiment training and workshops can be equally therapeutic to most people. I hope that this talk has been useful.

Copyright, 2018. Maz Michael

 

Not quite a Jolly Good Fellow (aka Dominic has a hissy fit)

this was initially published as a site page in March 2018 and has been reproduced here out of date order to the rest of the blog posts

Dominic holding Fellowship Certificate

Dominic Davies receiving fellowship certification from BACP President Cary Cooper

In June 2007, I was delighted to receive the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy’s highest honour for “distinctive service in the field of counselling and psychotherapy” when I became a Fellow. It was something I’ve always been very proud of, not least because the Organisation tended to only confer Fellowships upon people who have chaired their internal committees and that held no interest for me. One of the other people honoured on the same night was my friend and co-author Professor Lynne Gabriel who the following year went on to Chair BACP’s Board of Governors.

However, as the years have gone by, I’ve become an outspoken critic of BACP. If you just flick through previous blog posts, you’ll see I probably blog about them more than any other topic!

This time last year, I decided to save my £200 and not renew my membership. I’d been a member for 30 years. I’d threatened to do it the year before when BACP was dragging its stilettoes about extending protections to trans and gender-expansive people about expanding the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Conversion Therapy. My actual resignation brought a request from the Chief Executive and current Chair of Governors to meet with me to hear my grievances. I was incredibly surprised by this consulted widely to ensure I could use the opportunity to explain the widespread dissatisfaction with the organisation. At our meeting, they received a 13-page document of comments and concerns from members of our Pink Therapy Facebook group and six critical points for my motivations for leaving.

Apparently, I was permitted to remain a Fellow even if I wasn’t a member, and for sentimental reasons, I decided to continue to do so. But with recent events, I’ve changed Fellowship Certificate torn upmy mind. I am renouncing my Fellowship as I feel incredibly angered by their incompetence and duplicity. I realise this is an empty gesture as probably no-one gives a fuck, not least anyone at BACP, but I feel contaminated by associating my name and reputation with theirs. I’ve had enough of them!

The debacle in the latest issue of Therapy Today whereby the editor (despite having been informed of the transphobic nature of an organisation called Transgender Trend (TT) decided to publish two letters effectively advocating for conversion therapy for trans teens and in clear breach of BACP’s undertaking to support the MoU. Incidentally, neither of these two letter writers was a member of BACP. Within 24 hours around 600 people (many of whom are therapists working with trans clients) signed a letter of concern to BACP. I was furious to see the petty spite and gross immaturity of TT’s supporters when they heard of the open letter and used it as an opportunity to leave spiteful and transphobic comments.

The editor and Chair of BACP have both made statements of apology for the Transgender Trend letter, but have remained silent on the one from Bob Withers who is a UKCP Registered Psychotherapist and member of the British Psychoanalytic Council – both organisations are signatories to the MoU, and I await his censure by those organisations.

It isn’t the first time the editor has been criticised for her lack of understanding of the field of counselling, and there have been numerous calls for her resignation. However, her appointment points to incompetence at the heart of the largest counselling body in the UK. BACP like to think of Therapy Today as a professional journal much of the content is behind a paywall, but the quality is severely lacking due to a lack of experience.  Both the COSRT and BPS journals are edited by  highly experienced professional therapists. However, many of my colleagues report dropping it directly into the recycling bin which is probably where it belongs!

I am pretty upset about tearing up my certificate as I used to be proud to be associated with BACP, but I’m saddened to say, those days are long gone.  I have found a much more welcome home with the National Counselling Society, who two years ago also made me a Fellow and last month appointed me Ambassador for Gender, Sexual and Relationship Diversity.

Dominic Davies
CEO – Pink Therapy, Fellow National Counselling Society
Ambassador for Gender, Sexual and Relatioship Diversity

Box of Ferrero Rocher with a note from the CEO of National Counselling Society

The CEO of the National Counselling Society sent me some Ferror Rocher to assist in my Ambassadorial duties

Nothing About Us, Without Us

tl,dr http://www.bacp.co.uk/docs/pdf/16237_gender-sexual-relationship-diversity-001.pdf

It gives me a great deal of pleasure to finally be able to say positive things about the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) which is the UK’s largest therapy organisation, by a long chalk.

Readers of this blog will be familiar with my having been quite critical of the BACP, which a decade ago kindly made me a Fellow of the organisation for my contribution to the field (having helped bring a trilogy of UK textbooks on working with LGBT people to the fruition back in 1996 and 2000, and founding Pink Therapy the organisation. I had hoped that might be the start of a much closer working relationship, but sadly not.  I finally resigned from BACP in March of this year (a year later than I thought I would) as I felt they still hadn’t made any significant progress to address my concerns.

After I resigned, I was gobsmacked that their CEO, Dr Hadyn Williams and their Chair, Dr Andrew Reeves came down to London to ask me more about the reasons for my resignation and dissatisfaction with the organisation.  Having consulted with colleagues, I was able to give them a 12-page document of comments and six significant points of concern of my own:

  1. Lack of Gender, Sexual and Relationship Diversity (GSRD) awareness amongst staff within the profession and amongst accredited courses.
  2. GSRD Counsellors are frequently experiencing a lack of understanding on their training courses which consistently fail to address their training needs or support them.
  3. Uncritical acceptance of highly contested concepts: Sex addiction workshops and porn addiction training are being supported by them when there is no agreement of these ‘conditions’ within the DSM or by WHO.
  4. Minimal curriculum development for courses on GSRD issues.  BACP could be leading the way and setting standards regarding core competencies and the development of teaching resources.
  5. Lacking in loyalty towards its members – not putting counsellors first – regarding their pay and contracts. Continuing to promote employers advertising for very low-paid counselling posts.
  6. Not having secured a way to retain people like Professor Michael Jacobs on the UK Register.  To require someone of his experience and stature to sit the ‘proficiency test’ is an insult to someone who helped build BACP back in the 1980’s.

I felt I was given a decent listening to and we shared some concerns.  They asked me if I’d be willing to be consulted on issues where my experience was relevant, and I eagerly agreed.

I was then somewhat surprised to learn in May that a working group had been set up to write a document on working with GSRD clients.  The membership of it was unknown to me, but I heard on the grapevine that only one of the group had openly declared their sexuality as gay.  It seemed that cisgender, heterosexuals were to be authoring a guide to working with LGBT clients.  It thought that would be unlikely if the guide were to be on working with Black and Asian Clients. It just didn’t make sense not to be approaching my colleagues or me at Pink Therapy and drawing on our expertise in this area.

However, in July, I was formally approached by someone at BACP to take a look at this document which was by now almost ready for publication.  It was so awful, I couldn’t see how it could be re-edited, and I recommended a complete re-writing by someone who had direct experience of the literature and the field of GSRD. I suggested they approach my clinical associate, Dr Meg-John Barker, as they have previously co-authored an excellent book in this area and were planning to revise it.  This field of GSRD therapy is changing so rapidly regarding language and concepts that their original text from 2013 is already in need of revision.

I was so pleased that BACP took my advice and that Meg-John could make time for the re-write.  This occurred just as they were about to have a writing retreat and so the BACP guide got bumped to the top of their list, and they produced what I think is an incredibly rich document.  Meg-John excels at taking a complex and highly nuanced material and making it accessible for people with little to no prior knowledge.

To its absolute credit, BACP accepted the text in its entirety (albeit with some concerns about whether there might be alternative terms which could avoid the use of the ‘f-word’ for fuckbuddy and genderfuck.  So rather than obscuring the offending word with an asterisk, they use the asterisk to state: *this term is the groups preferred identity desciptor [sic]. They also agreed to Meg-John retaining copyright and to make the document available widely and not just restricting it to members only.

So please give it up for BACP and a big round of applause for Dr Meg-John Barker for writing this fantastic document.
Please feel free to share it widely!  I know I will be!

http://www.bacp.co.uk/docs/pdf/16237_gender-sexual-relationship-diversity-001.pdf

BACP Gender Sexual and Relationship Diversity 001_AW (2)