Do we therapists have an ethical duty to attend to our own sexual needs?

I recently delivered a training day on working with erotic transference and counter-transference. I must confess that teaching is one of the ways in which I learn best. I research the subject, sometimes masochistically, torturing myself about not knowing enough thus reading even more. When in fact I reflect and process the material over and over and over… And keep this reflection alive in me when supporting supervisees or working with clients. Then eventually I reflect some more to come up with my own understanding and my own experience. I gain further learning by hearing the students’ reflections on the material. This time what came up strongly was around therapists’ self care.

 

I find the subject of erotic transference to be a vast one: it encompasses so many aspects of human relationships like love, intimacy, attachment, attraction, choice of partners, sexuality and of course SEX. Yes sex, a subject that appears to still be the great taboo in our generic counselling and psychotherapy training. Of course there is a lot written about it, not a lot talked about and even less taught. Erotic transference and counter-transference can be unique means to work at depth with the therapeutic relationship, a delicate work of accepting the invitation for intimacy without shaming or acting out and working within safe boundaries.

 

When considering the many dynamics of erotic and sexual feelings in the therapy room, it occurs to me that erotic counter-transference can be happening if we, therapists have not been listening to our sexual needs and attended to them in our private life. It can be very difficult and demanding for therapists to hear the sexual exploits, joys, hopes and/or distresses of clients, for all these can resonate and interface with the therapist’s own erotic world. This is why, in the various training events I facilitate, I invite my students (often very qualified therapists) to explore their own sexuality and relationship with sex. But let’s not kid ourselves, this work can be a long and slow process that includes exploring our shadow and other uncomfortable territories. I find this work on self essential in order to be aware of our erotic templates, core themes, fantasies, desires and needs. Of course, some of it can be looked at in therapy, couple or relationship therapy and possibly supervision. I therefore raise the question and pose that the sexual part of our selves needs to be nurtured as well as nourished. Without this we will risk addressing our needs within our consulting rooms and getting our own sexual gratification via the client’s material or transference (sometimes outside of our awareness) and THAT is unethical.

 

So here it is: as part of our self care, do we have an ethical duty to be sexually ‘fulfilled’ in our private lives so we can be safer when exploring (amongst other subjects) the erotic in the consulting room?

 

PS: This thoughts may appear to be irrelevant to certain asexual, demi-sexual or post sexual therapists on a personal level, yet be useful in their supervisory capacity.

Olivier Cormier-Otaño mBACP Accred
Counsellor, Psychosexual therapist and Supervisor

olivier.counselling@hotmail.com

 

 

Seriously Purple -Micro aggressions

I’ve been wanting to write this blog for a little while now and I’ve just returned from the Vigil on Old Compton Street to show solidarity with the LGBTIQ folk across the world who are facing homo, bi and trans phobia and hatred within their communities and especially with the people affected by the massacre by a man with a gun shooting over a hundred people at the weekend most of them People of Colour (49 deaths and wounding at least 53 more). But many others have written eloquently about the Massacre, and so this blog isn’t about that.

This blog is about hatred, but not the shooting-your-neighbour-and-their-friends kind of hate, but the impact of what have come to be called the ‘Microaggressions of everyday life’.  The tiny sneers, avoidant gazes and snickers at someone else expense. Being basted with a toxic marinade every day and wherever we go. It’s a very subtle form of hatred that is done to us, and we do to each other.

I think we all know by now the emotional and psychological costs of Minority Stress on the lives of Gender, Sexuality and Relationship Diverse people. The elevated rates of depression and self harm, alcohol and substance misuse, and anxiety and other major mental health problems. The research has largely focussed on LGBT people and has shown much more elevated levels of mental health distress amongst bi and trans folk. 

This is the impact of living on a planet where people are made to feel bad for who they love and how they express themselves.  Research seems to show that for many people finding ‘community’ and selectively sharing the information about one’s gender and/or sexuality, tends to have a positive effect on mental health.  There is even some evidence that being in a relationship is good for our mental health and can build resilience and have physical and mental health benefits.

But when you have found your tribe or community, and when you’ve found someone to share your life with, and maybe even marry them – does life get easier?  I’m not sure it does.  At least it’s not as simple as that.  Every time you reveal yourself IMG_7116to be who you are you’re likely to receive some forms of micro aggression.  Whenever I hold a partners hand out in public, I will almost always encounter some micro aggression or when I’m pulling on my leathers to go to a bar in town for a drink on a Saturday night and travelling on the tube or bus, or when I’m wearing something fab-u-lous like the purple hat I’m sporting here, I will encounter someone else’s negative reaction.  These micro aggressions are most common when I’m amongst the hetero-majority.   People will see that I’m queer and respond accordingly, in a microsecond.  Probably before they’re even aware they’ve responded and if you see them – you will register the tiny micro aggression and it can eat away at your soul and if you don’t feel you have a soul, it will eat away at your confidence, in time. 

When I was with a few thousand other wonderful people on Old Compton Street nobody seemed to care, but a few minutes walk away and my ‘gaydar’ detected two or three individuals who undoubtedly batted for our team and were very close friends with Dorothy, each of whom found a way to ensure I didn’t exist!

So we think by being out and proud and living our authentic life, and being our own special creation, everything is going to be fine and dandy – and most of the time they are. And sometimes they are not.  Sometimes, we can be as guilty about quietly spooning out this marinade over each other and THAT IS NOT GOOD.  We can see someone, especially someone who is looking more fabulous than we are, or behaving in a loud and outrageous manner and giving the game away and we too can ladle it out with a sneer or avoid their gaze, snicker, not want to be seen as like THAT! Not wanting to be one-of-THOSE-people. We can also do it when someone’s body-shape doesn’t match the gay or lesbian ‘ideal’, when someone is significantly older than the others in the bar or club, and when their gender presentation is outside what is considered the accepted cultural ‘norm’.  The years of having to hide, and pass and survive, leaves us all with a legacy, whereby we often, quite unconsciously, avoid acknowledging each other, we withhold our smiles of recognition and warmth for a kindred spirit and THAT IS NOT GOOD!

I think we need to continue to build community, celebrate diversity and be kind to each other and if someone is a bit more full-on or different than we are when we see them in the street, perhaps we can smile and wink and celebrate our differences and our similarities.

embracing_diversity

Dominic Davies
CEO Pink Therapy – June 2016

Orlando

This captures my feelings very well.
Dominic Davies
CEO Pink Therapy.

Law and Sexuality

BfYEUy95_400x400Sometimes events can change everything.  Other times, they serve to crystalise realities, (re)presenting the truths of our times.  Whether the tragic events of Orlando will have a lasting effect remains to be seen.  Right now, they serve as an awful lens through which we find ourselves reappraising our society.

For many, the events will have resulted in a desire to hug a loved one just that little bit closer, that little bit longer in the hours that followed.  For many, far too many, fifty at present, those loved ones are gone.  Lost in a hail of bullets delivered by a deeply disturbed individual with apparently a flawed sense of meaning, they can neither comfort nor be comforted again.  Desperate texts that have come to light suggest some of those at Pulse club drew their last breaths cowering in toilets as a murderous gunman unleashed his hate on the gay club…

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Today is IDAHOBIT

May 17th is International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (or IDAHOBIT) where 130 countries around the world mark lesbophobia (where the term leads the South American efforts), homophobia, biphobia and transphobia.  It started out as IDAHO, then in 2009 added the T and in 2015 we Brits added bisexuality, so you’ll see it spelt differently depending on where you are in the world.  The similarity in name and reference to hobbits wasn’t welcomed by many activists around the world who saw:

*Consultations on the name with activists in 120 countries have concluded that the reference to hobbits might be clever for some parts of the world, but were seen elsewhere as an imposition of Western values. In many places where people are facing daily life threats, this proposal was considered highly inappropriate.

The theme this year is Mental Health and Well-being.

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Dr Felicity Daly, Adernoke Apata, Prof. Michael King & Dominic Davies at Kaleidoscope Lecture

On Tuesday last week, I was invited by Dr Felicity Daly, Executive Director of the Kaleidoscope Trust to take part in a lecture on Global Mental Health and Well-being.  Other panelists were Nigerian LGBT Activist and Asylum Seeker Aderonke Apata and Professor Michael King of University College Hospital. This blog is an extended version of my brief presentation there.
At Pink Therapy we been engaging in a small way on the international stage for a little under a decade. I would occasionally get emails from therapists around the world asking for support and training and our weekend based model of short courses wasn’t conducive to their being able to travel on a regular basis and study with us.   Seven  years ago Pink Therapy ran a not for profit International Summer School.  Over the subsequent years we have had psychologists, psychotherapists, psychiatrists  and sexologists from across Europe (including Central & Eastern Europe (Latvia, Croatia, Serbia, Poland, Hungary).  Plus Israel Malta, Spain, Italy, France Germany, Denmark, Finland, Eire, Portugal, Scotland, NZ. South America: Brazil & Colombia. We’ve even had  one person from Africa (Benin).

There are also a number of overseas countries where I’ve delivered training: (in alphabetical order): Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Colombia,Dublin, France, Germany, Guernsey, Latvia, Malta and New Zealand, each has their own rich and quite different environment for the way Gender, Sexuality and Relationship Diverse people are living their lives.

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Summer School Graduates 2015

Most of the therapists attending our Summer School’s have been working in very isolated contexts, where they might have been virtually the only out gay therapist in their country.  They’ve worked with an incredibly wide range of clients.  Some worked with LGBT victims of war, and of poverty, (the Transgender Roma’s of Serbia), or where the political situation is becoming more conservative and repressive (Poland).

Many of the psychologists/therapists are activist-clinicians.  I met a an amazing intersex activist and therapist Mani Bruce Mitchell when I visited New Zealand or a lecture tour to promote the first volume of Pink Therapy in 1996.  Mani was then the only out Intersex person in NZ.  They recently had a second documentary made about them Intersexion which did very well at the LGBT+ Film Festivals around the world.

One of the earliest people to connect with us was Miguel Rueda-Saenz who went on to set up Pink Consultores an organisation similar to Pink Therapy in Bogota, Colombia and his University invited me to come out and deliver some training in Colombia. We’ve also had Klecius Borges a Brazilian Jungian psychotherapist who has done amazing work raising awareness of LGB mental issues and become a bit of a Brazilian television celebrity. We have had in two different cohorts,  two lesbian therapists from Singapore where homosexuality is still illegal.   It’s still not uncommon to find clinicians in Asia claiming homosexuality is a mental illness.  I heard about this from people in Malaysia and China recently.

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No Pride sticker from Latvia

I was invited to help train the very first LGBT helpline volunteers in Latvia. (The year before the ‘Friendship Parade’ was 300 people marching around a city park heavily protected by armed police and 3000 protestors outside screaming abuse at them.  They were bussed away from the park for their own safety.

Normally the people running such a service would be entirely self-identified as LGBT or T). On my helpline training in Latvia where there were just three brave out lesbian and gay therapists and so heterosexual allies formed the majority of the group.  One of the out gay therapists was Maris Sants  a priest and psychotherapist living in Latvia and one of the most well qualified therapists I’ve met.  He is a survivor of Russian Reparative Therapy and was often brought into the TV studio to comment on LGBT human rights issues.  Subsequently he was frequently spat at and attacked in the street for being openly gay. He is now exiled in the UK, where he initially got a job working in a café as a barista whilst he continued to serve the therapy needs of his fellow gay Latvians via the safety of Skype consultations.

There are so many stories of resistance and resilience we’ve heard over the years.

Our new 2 year Post Graduate Diploma is making a contribution to this deficit. Even in the UK, therapists have virtually virtually NO training in working with LGBT clients, despite LGBT people having much poorer mental health than the heterosexual and cis-gender population.  Across the world, it’s much, much worse.

We know LGBT’s have poorer mental health.  Especially the B’s and the T’s by virtue of the pressures on us due to Minority Stress and even amongst those of us with all kinds of privilege by virtue of gender, race, education, and class, we continue to face the constant toxic low-grade micro aggressions – the kind of marinade of ‘tolerance’ and mild disgust we live with – especially when we make ourselves visible, through the privilege of being able to engage in public displays of affection or state sanctioned weddings.  How much worse must it be when you face prison or punishment rapes or an honour killing for being LGBT?

Mental Health is such an important human right to be fighting for.  It goes to the heart of a country’s well-being – in terms of it’s health care, its culture, it’s spiritual life, and of course  the economy.  So finding a way to improve the legal situation in countries where homosexuality and gender variance are punished is crucial. Kaleidoscope have a project to change the laws in Commonwealth Countries. But so is improving the awareness of our fellow citizens at home.  Things are changing.  Much more than I could have imagined when I was coming out 35 years ago.  But there is still a long way to go.  This is why IDAHOBIT/IDAHOT is so important.

Dominic Davies
CEO – Pink Therapy

We’re all in it together. Aren’t we?

IMG_6098On Friday, I received this invitation. 

I was both thrilled by the recognition that my contribution to British society had been recognised and then immediately felt deeply uncomfortable. 

I wasn’t sure what to do. I just don’t feel comfortable being part of ‘Dirty Dave’s’ PR effort to impress the queers that the Tories care about us. They don’t care about us, and they care about the weak and the vulnerable even less. 

I talked to a few trusted friends and colleagues and came to the conclusion that in all conscience I just didn’t feel it was right to go.  It’s been a complex process and not one that everyone will agree with, but I wanted to explain my reasons for this.

Earlier this year, I had the privilege of representing the working group of the Memorandum of Understanding around Conversion Therapy in a small meeting with Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Public Health, Jane Ellison MP, in her very smart and newly refurnished office at the Department of Health. I was delighted with how much she seemed to grasp about the complexities of therapists and staff in the NHS who might be approached by people wanting to change their sexuality or their gender.  She seemed compassionate, bright and well intentioned.

It was then somewhat of a surprise, when I saw that she recently voted to support benefit cuts, and  just recently voted against allowing 3,000 unaccompanied refugee children into the UK. In fact, she rarely votes against the Government, but then again, I guess that’s how you get to be Deputy Health Minister.  I am politically quite naive aren’t I?

The Conservative Government under David Cameron has done far worse damage to the Welfare State and to the NHS than Margaret Thatcher did.

Of course, I am delighted that Britain now has some of the best LGBT human rights protections in the world, although let’s not forget they want to opt our of the European Convention on Human Rights.  It seems that so long as we play nice, and want to get married and settle down like ‘normal’ people. But making PrEP available for those filthy gay men who have condomless sex outside of monogamous relationships?  Don’t bank on getting that funded.

If you can afford £50 (or less) a month, you might want to protect yourself and order online!  We have Trident to fund after all!  It’s interesting isn’t it, we can always find money for bombs, even if we can’t afford to look after the more vulnerable members of society like the refugee children who have been made homeless and lost their parents because of our bombs!

I’m interested to see what action get’s taken on the Transgender Equality Enquiry.  I suspect it will get buried. 

Everyone is aware of the cuts in funding of the third sector organisations – LGBT organisations are like PACE closed down and others are having “to do much more for less” and the savage cuts to the benefits system have caused thousands of people to become homeless and die.  Including LGBT teens of course.

I attended Digital Pride on Saturday, and heard from the black panelists on the Race panel (before I chaired the one on Mental Health), how appalling the Home Office are still being in assessing asylum claims for those LGBT Asylum seekers fleeing persecution in oppressive regimes abroad. It’s certainly not getting better for them.

As a result, I’m not sure that I can in all conscience attend this garden party for 200 hand picked LGBT people of influence and pretend to support David Cameron’s government when so many other groups in our society are suffering at his hands.  Wandering around his carefully tended garden with the waft of Terre by Hermés with the A-Gays drinking nice wine and showing gratitude for how far we’ve come, when we have homeless queer youth on the streets, LGBT Asylum seekers being starved and sent home to their deaths, and the Junior Doctors being asked to put patient’s lives at risk because Jeremy Hunt on a whim feels that they can all work a little harder.

Some people have told me that it’s better to be on the inside changing things.  I’m missing out on the opportunity to make connections with powerful people of influence and inform them more about Queer mental health.  But another, less principled aspect of this is that in all honesty, as someone who is socially fairly introverted and finds large gatherings like this a nightmare, I really doubt I would have been able to operate in that sphere and I’d just lurk on the edge, taking selfies for my Facebook page.

There are many people who are great at ‘working’ these events, and having these difficult conversations, and who can stomach to do that in the face of knowing full-well what the wider picture is.  Those are the people who have fought for and won so many of our recent Rights and protections.  I admire them and I’m pleased they are doing what they do.  I just don’t have the stomach for it.

Dominic Davies
CEO – Pink Therapy

Beyond Gay and Straight

Thanks for this blog about our conference. We’d like to share it with our followers

Counselling in Northumberland

Content notes for mention of rape, biphobia, abuse, including therapeutic abuse, and bierasure.

I had the great pleasure of attending the Pink Therapy annual conference this spring. Entitled beyond Gay and Straight it focused on the experiences of bisexual people in a variety of contexts. Some, such as the worse mental health outcomes  for bisexual people, was familiar territory to me, other aspects, such as the seminar on gay men who marry straight cis women were thought-provoking and challenging in the best way.

There was too much covered in the day to give a seminar by seminar break down, fortunately Pink Therapy has put videos from the conference on You Tube. I was struck by a theme of trusting self-identification of both gender, and sexuality running through the day, and how much resistance there is to this.

Picking a side

Many bisexual people report being treated as if their sexuality…

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What can BACP do?

bacp logo redrawn                          PINK4646 DD Portrait

I’ve been asked by several people who have been unhappy with BACP’s complacency with regard to responding to the fact that LGBT people are known to have poorer mental health and who are overrepresented in the therapy population, as to what they could actually be doing to improve the situation.

The following points could also be applied to all the other psy/therapy professional bodies as well, but as BACP is the largest (and wealthiest) organisation, the could easily be leading by example here and putting in some extra energy.

1. Develop some core competencies on Equality and Diversity related issues that take account of the complexity of intersectionality.

2. Ensure all therapists receive some basic sexuality awareness training so that they can discuss sexual issues with their clients.

3. Ensure Gender, Sexuality and Relationship Diversity (GSRD) issues are woven throughout the therapy training and not just a tokenistic add on.  But there needs to be some specialist add on’s too!

4. Closely audit accredited courses to ensure they are meeting these requirements.

5. The specialist training in GSRD issues should be delivered either by faculty if they feel competent, or by external trainers. Students enrolled in the programme should not be expected or asked to deliver this training.

6. Fund a researcher to produce training materials on the subject of Attempts to Change Sexuality or suppress Gender Variant expression as a resource for all of the signatory organisations of the Memorandum of Understanding and their members.

7. Actively support people from disadvantaged and underserved communities to train as therapists especially BAME and Trans people who are both under represented and structurally and financially disadvantaged.

If you’re a therapist, I’d encourage you to actively lobby your professional body and ask them what they are doing to improve the mental health of LGBT+ people.

BACP made their announcement that they would be supporting extending the protections of the Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy to members of the trans and asexual communities on the same day as my membership was due to expire.  As a gesture of good faith, I decided to part with the £200 membership renewal fee in the hope that this year we can see some real and significant action.

Meanwhile, my membership application to the National Counselling Society has not only been accepted, but they awarded me membership at their highest level of Fellow.

NCS_Fellow_Cert

Dominic Davies
CEO – Pink Therapy