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

 

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

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.

13221194_1100283186677128_1382258632041923606_o

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.

IMG_3294

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.

nopride

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

BACP Signs up!

I was delighted to learn that the BACP Board of Governors decided to sign up to an inclusive Memorandum of Understanding to extend protections to trans people and asexuals.  This still hasn’t been published on their website but will be soon.BACP MoU statementI am grateful that to everyone who played a part in lobbying the Board with their views, research and concerns.  I think this has been immensely helpful in helping the Board decide that these protections are needed.

All the signatories to the MoU need to follow their due process and consider the implications for signing up and extending the protections.  BACP were doing just that.  It had been reported elsewhere that they had refused to sign, and this was a distortion of what I had been stating, that the Board were to meet in Early March and the indication I’d had was that they might decide not to sign based on “a lack of evidence & research.”  This research was then supplied and the Board of Governors were able to make an informed decision.

I’ve been mulling over whether to still resign over my broader dissatisfactions with BACP. However, I think to resign at this point might look like this queen has had a hissy fit.   

BACP ought to be well aware of the significantly higher rates of mental health problems within the LGB and T community based on research they commissioned in 2007.  However, I am saddened that they’ve not used their considerable resources to ensure that counsellors are adequately trained to support LGBT people.  Their signing up to the Memorandum of Understanding makes this an obligation and I am hopeful they will be auditing their accredited courses more closely on their attention to issues to GSRD issues.

I had hoped that having been made a Fellow in 2007 for my “distinctive service to the field”  that this might signal an opportunity to collaborate in improving the mental health of Gender, Sexual and Relationship Diversities (GSRD). BACP also published my article Not in Front of the Students about the absence of training in their journal in the same year.  But nothing has changed and I’ve felt quite dispirited. Instead, BACP have promoted workshops on treating sexual addiction which is a highly contested and controversial issue which many of us in the field of clinical sexology would dispute See Marty Klein who has blogged extensively on this or the excellent book by David Ley Ley, 2013, Flanagan 2013 and my post Davies, 2013) Sexual Addiction or Hypersexual Disorder failed to be included in the latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (the bible for mental health disorders compiled by the American Psychiatric Association) on the grounds of lack of robust evidence for diagnosis and effective treatment.

One of the positives that has come from my having taken stance is that MANY therapists and members of the GSRD communities have been having a conversation about therapy and it’s need to catch up with the rapid evolving field and address the mental health needs of our communities.  [Over 80 concerned therapists and sexologists signed an open letter to the Board.]

It always surprises non-counsellors when I tell them that in what can be between a three to seven year training to become a therapist there is virtually no training in basic human sexuality and relationships let alone in working with people whose sexuality is different to the mainstream. Unless one trains to be a sex therapist, one is unlikely to be able to engage in explicitly sexual conversations.

Perhaps all of this activity over the past few weeks can pave the way for a closer dialogue between all of us who are concerned to see better mental health for our communities. We’ll see!

Dominic Davies
CEO/Founder Pink Therapy

BACP seen as flawed at home and abroad

globe.jpeg

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

PINK4646 DD Portrait

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