Yesterday, I was invited to meet with Norman Lamb the Minister for Care and Support and the heads (or their representatives) of most of the major psy/therapy organisations (BACP, UKCP, BPS, National Counselling Society, British Psychoanalytic Council, Relate, BABCP, Assoc of Christian Counsellors, Chair of GLAAD representing the Royal College of GP’s) PACE and Stonewall. The topic of this ’round table’ was Conversion Therapy which the Minister told us he was very concerned about and wanted to establish what was happening and what the government might do about it.
Professor Michael King was there representing the Royal College of Psychiatrists and both he and I were invited to make presentations – him on the evidence of efficacy and harm and me, on the training needs for therapists and what the professional bodies should be doing. I’d been waiting for an opportunity like this for my entire career!
David Pink from UKCP gave some background to the issue as UKCP have been taking the lead on this for a while now and recently produced a booklet commissioned by the Government for the NHS Choices website. Pink Therapy had a hand in this and it seems an important step at the Government making it clear that Conversion Therapy has no place in ethical health care for LGB people.
After Mike King gave some background on the history of conversion therapy and the lack of evidence for its benefit and plenty of evidence for it’s harm, I had around 20 minutes to present my own thoughts.
This is a slightly tidied up version of what I said:
Dept of Health Round Table on Conversion Therapy
Training & Policy
Whilst I’m concerned about religiously motivated Conversion Therapy and have been professionally active on this issue for over two decades, I’m much more concerned with Professor King’s data about 1:6 mainstream therapists of your organisations agreeing to contracts to reduce SSA or cure people. Most of these people are not overtly religiously motivated and so might not feel your Conversion Therapy policy statements apply to them.
These were well meaning mainstream and secular therapists who were poorly trained and inadequately prepared to know how to respond to a highly distressed client. Training in understanding what is different about working with gender or sexual minorities is either absent or patchy in most British therapy training courses and so therapists don’t know how to respond and often have little cultural competency in understanding the social contexts in which their clients live. Noble humanistic concepts about the clients right to self determination are in conflict with what might be a lack of choice over the gender of their sexual partners. The people presenting for ‘gay cure’ are generally likely to be those who have a fixed and enduring sexual identity (Kinsey 6’s) and whereas sexuality can be quite plastic for many people and there are plenty of examples of situational homosexuality amongst heterosexuals in single sex environments and sexual fluidity over a lifespan for many LGB and T people, the people seeking ‘cure’ are unlikely to be those people who feel unable to change.
In some contexts (lesbian and gay Muslim especially) lesbians and gay men may be facing honour killings from family members or alienation from their community and families. They maybe literally pleading for their lives.
I’m also interested to know how those organisations which have Christian Counsellors or Pastoral Counsellors like Assoc Christian Counselling and BACP’s Association for Pastoral and Spiritual Care Counselling will monitor whether conversion therapy is being undertaken organisations? Changing policy and forbidding something doesn’t make it go away.
I’m interested to hear what other colleagues are doing to ensure their Policy Statements are translated into action and how they propose to train their members in ensuring they can respond appropriately to requests for change.
However, it goes wider than this in delivering culturally safe and appropriate mental health services. An example is that whilst we now have full equality in Gay Marriage, we should bear in mind that research shows that between 50-80% gay male couples are are not sexually exclusive. So whilst Relate has become less heteronormative over the years, it is still virtually impossible for a gay couple to get help in opening up their sexual relationship, when the training of the therapists in Relate has been about helping couples maintain sexual fidelity and keeping families together.
Research is showing that Bisexuals get offered conversion therapy from mainstream counselling organisations too! Some therapists feel they should just help the bisexual pick one identity and either be heterosexual or gay. (Ref: Bisexuality Report and Richards and Barker, 2013)
- Accrediting a course, should mean the course gets audited for what they are teaching about working with gender and sexual diversity clients. I’m interested in therapists being culturally safe to offer therapy to sex minority communities. So that LGBT people are afforded dignity to live within their own values and norms. Such training in understanding developmental theory, life stages and relationship models etc should be integrated and run throughout whole curriculum and not be an optional add on for a single workshop. The BPS Guidelines for working therapeutically with gender and sexual minority clients are most helpful and I’d like courses seeking accreditation to be asked to embed these guidelines in their training of therapists so that throughout the curricula therapists are learning how to work with diversity.
- Post Qualified counsellors faced with requests for change need CPD to help them better handle these issues. A big stick or forbidding conversion therapy is not helpful. You have a duty of care to your members to support them in know how best to effectively respond to genuine distress and requests for ‘cure’.
- Therapists and supervisors need training in how to work with the issues. Our own workshops for supervisors were frequently cancelled due to low take up, it seems supervisors (who may well have been trained at a time when homosexuality was still classified as a mental disorder) feel they are above or beyond the need for training in how to supervise therapy with LGBT clients.
- Specifically with regard to Requests for ‘Cure’, I recommend a training pack be produced – with video, experiential exercises and some theoretical material and resources which addresses how to work with these issues. We should then offer to train counsellor trainers in how to use the pack so that they can then deliver training to their students. It would be good if the Dept of Health could help us produce this material – making a video with a Muslim actor playing a gay client who is conflict with his cultural and faith beliefs and sexual orientation.
You will see I’ve used the concept of Cultural Safety. This arose in Nurse Education in New Zealand and here’s a short explanation:
Cultural safety relates to the experience of the recipient of nursing service and extends beyond cultural awareness and cultural sensitivity. It provides consumers of nursing services with the power to comment on practices and contribute to the achievement of positive health outcomes and experiences. It also enables them to participate in changing any negatively perceived or experienced service. The Council’s definition of cultural safety is:
The effective nursing practice of a person or family from another culture, and is determined by that person or family. Culture includes, but is not restricted to, age or generation; gender; sexual orientation; occupation and socioeconomic status; ethnic origin or migrant experience; religious or spiritual belief; and disability
The nurse delivering the nursing service will have undertaken a process of reflection on his or her own cultural identity and will recognise the impact that his or her personal culture has on his or her professional practice. Unsafe cultural practice comprises any action which diminishes, demeans or disempowers the cultural identity and well being of an individual.
http://nursingcouncil.org.nz/content/download/721/2871/file/Guidelines%20for%20cultural%20safety,%20the%20Treaty%20of%20Waitangi,%20and%20Maori%20health%20in%20nursing%20education%20and%20practice.pdf [emphasis added]
After the meeting, I had warm and encouraging approaches from the National Counselling Society and the British Psychoanalytic Council who want us to advise them on what they can be doing. Also within hours the Chief Exec of Relate emailed me asking me to meet with their Head of Training. Interestingly, the representative from BACP remained silent throughout the meeting and afterwards. I hope I shouldn’t be reading too much into this.
There are plans for a follow up meeting and maybe a Memorandum of Understanding which we will hopefully agree.
This is the first time I’ve seen these professional associations coming together on an issue. They are essentially rivals and many competing for members. It was good to see them in agreement about Conversion Therapy and open to hearing my proposals.