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.

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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

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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

 

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

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

 

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

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

Another counsellor responded:

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only LGBT component of their course, as students, often having to balance outing themselves with tackling prejudice and outdated notions

Another said:

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

Some international support

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

and this one:

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

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

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

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

On the monopoly BACP seem to have with employers:

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

And another:

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

And another:

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

What could BACP be doing?

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

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

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

Dominic Davies
22 Feb 2016

Bad Language and Psychoanalysis

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I’m increasingly becoming concerned when I see language used like this: http://www.nscience.co.uk/10-feb-2016.html by colleagues in the psychoanalytic world.

What I am talking about here is the misappropriation by some sectors of the psychoanalytic community of the terms ‘sadism’ and ‘masochism’ to largely mean acting in a way which punishes others or themselves, (usually with words or thoughts rather than physical activities).

I believe it’s now pretty widely understood that in the real world, sadism and masochism refer to consensual sensation based ‘play’ (giving or receiving pain in sexualised contexts).  I think that in mainstream society this is fairly well understood and  I suspect more people understand sadism and masochism in this context than the obscure psychoanalytic one.

Language is constantly evolving and dynamic and words that for one generation were acceptable are no longer acceptable.  This continued usage is akin to us using the word ‘Coloured’ to mean Black, or ‘cripple’ to mean disabled. It’s outdated and no longer acceptable practice.

In 2012 the British Psychoanalytic Council held its first conference, Homosexuality: Moving On, reviewed here by my former supervisor and friend, the late Dr Bernard Ratigan who was sat next to me.  It really felt there was a genuine desire to apologise for the harms done to the lesbian and gay communities by psychoanalysis.  The conference had an air of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of the post-apartheid era South Africa..  I know the BPC as an organisation are keen to no longer pathologise homosexuality, although how much progress has been made in their desire for moving on has been reflected in the curriculum of their member organisations psychoanalytic trainings or in their being openly lesbian or gay psychoanalysts as members is another question (there are several out gay psychoanalytic psychotherapists but to my knowledge not a single openly gay or lesbian psychoanalyst within BPC membership.

But what of other diverse sexualities, identities and lifestyles?  Is it acceptable to continue to pathologise members of the BDSM/Kink communities by using outdated and frankly offensive and misleading terms like sadism, masochism and perversion?

If the world of psychoanalysis wants to show it has something to offer those with diverse genders, sexualities and lifestyles and step aside from its history of pathologisation of sexual difference, and heteronormativity, then I think it would be wise to consider the impact of pathologising language on those disenfranchised members of society they might hope to help.

Dominic Davies
CEO Pink Therapy

P.S. In 2004 Pink Therapy’s held it’s first ever conference on the  subject of Queers, Queer Theory and the contribution of Psychoanalysis and Psychoanalytic thinking.  You can listen the audio recordings of the keynotes on our YouTube channel playlist

Dermod Moore interviews Dominic Davies in Dublin

This is an interview Dominic gave Dermod Moore when in Dublin earlier in the year where they discussed sex, sexuality and psychotherapy in the social context of Ireland. 

Dermod Moore: Thinking back to the time the Pink Therapy books were first published – a lot has changed since then!

Dominic Davies: Yes, Pink Therapy as an organisation has been around 14 years. It feels like it’s gone in the blink of an eye.

DM Do you have a sense that what you are doing is more mainstream, now?

DD I think that’s true. It’s now becoming a legitimate source of study and to work in. It’s being recognized by the professional associations too, which is really good. They’re not doing very public or explicit things regarding GSD issues, but I have a sense now that my voice will be heard, that, for example, my letters tend to be published in full. It’s quite a nice degree of power to have.

For example, the European Association for Psychotherapy has a draft document which is proposing the necessary professional core competencies for psychotherapists – it managed to avoid mentioning awareness of sexuality in its requirements.

I mean, how did you miss that out in the first place, people? What is going on? You list all these other “-isms” but you don’t list sexuality? Is that heteronormativity? Or is that homophobia? Because it should be ingrained in people’s awareness by now. When this was pointed out to me, I sent off a few emails to various people saying how appalling it was, and then someone in UKCP drafted a correction,* which was submitted to the EAP competency committee. It makes me think – it’s not benign for that to be missed out. The situation for European queers is pretty appalling, especially for some Central and Eastern Europeans – and for therapists practicing there, if it’s not enshrined in the competency codes that they need to account for sexuality, they could easily not do so, or pathologise, or institute reparative therapy. Given how Russia is treating gays at the moment, the fact that the EAP is meeting in Moscow is important.

One of the things that was coming out of today’s workshop was a sense that it was the first time that such a workshop was held in Ireland. Why did the professional associations not do this sort of thing?

DM Actually, Stephen Vaughan has presented workshops for IAHIP (Irish Association for Humanistic and Integrative Psychotherapy) and IACP (Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy) over the years, with others doing work for the HSE/GMHP.

I know, Dominic, that you’ve been working recently on emotional and psychological safety for sex workers in London, can you say a bit more about this aspect of your work?

DD Clearly, there are people who are exploited and trafficked, and that needs to be stopped, that goes without saying. For people who want to make a conscious choice to go into it as a profession, or as a part-time occupation, or as a way to pay their way through college, earning good money, and if they’re comfortable doing that, then I don’t think the state should be intervening in that. I think it’s their body and it’s their right to do with it as they want to. I also think there are also issues around access to sex, – for example, people with disabilities who might want to have sex. Sex workers often play a really vital role in the psychological and mental wellbeing of disabled people. Whether that’s just company, or self-esteem, or sexual touch, it seems to me that they are providing a compassionate service – and to criminalise it is appalling. I was lucky enough to meet sex workers in Australia and helped inspire an organisation that is largely staffed by sex workers to work with disabled people; training them how to safely lift people, how to deal with catheters etc; how to work with people with cerebral palsy, or speech impediments, or those who might spasm. How to help them practice their kissing skills, learn to flirt – sex workers are fantastic at flirting! They are very proficient teachers of the art of lovemaking. That was a really exciting project to be involved in.

A lot of the people using sex workers are very big into power play and degrading and using, and they may be nervous, difficult, trying to get it on the cheap, or try to exploit in other ways – and if you’re on the receiving end of that you may end up feeling quite contaminated with all this baggage. I was teaching them – both practicing and aspiring sex workers – Thought Field Therapy, an energy psychology, which is one of the most effective psychological treatments I’ve ever come across.

DM – I can hear, listening to you, how you are always de-problematising sex – always asking, “what’s wrong with sex?” In the Irish context, there’s often a long journey to leave behind a lot of shame about matters sexual, there’s such a strong message of “you’ve got to be careful, protect yourself”.

DD Of course I want people to protect themselves, while they are having incredible sex! I want them to be emotionally healthy! I’d want them to feel that what they are doing is liberating and exciting and a healthy and positive way of expressing themselves. And if they manage to remember the name of the person that they’re having sex with, and leave them both with a smile on their face, that counts as healthy sex!

DM There are regular radio ads in Ireland for a clinic offering treatments for all sorts of addiction, including sex addiction.

DD I don’t buy it, sex addiction. I don’t believe sex, which is a natural biological drive and urge, can be classified as an addiction. I think it’s dangerous and foolish to do so. I think Dr David J. Ley’s new book, The Myth of Sex Addiction spells out the case very eloquently, and if there is anyone who thinks there is such a thing they really ought to read his book. Yes, there are some people who have a problem with sex, who use it in a compulsive way, whose sexual activity masks other, more serious psychopathologies, such as bipolar depression, or borderline personality disorder, or narcissistic personality disorder. But if you are diagnosed as a sex addict, the treatment is perhaps to go on a chastity contract, or work The Steps; it focuses entirely on sex and your sexual history, that fits you in to a paradigm that says you were abused, or traumatised in some way. Who has not had a childhood that could not be seen as traumatic, through a particular lens? The sexual acting out is likely to be a symptom of something else that’s going on. It’s just a symptom, like a tic; and that will go away if you deal with the other stuff. In over 30 years of practice, I’ve never yet met a “sex addict.” I don’t think other people diagnosing you is ethical. The APA, doesn’t accept sex addiction exists; the DSM-V committee refused to include hypersexuality as a disorder. There’s no agreement that the diagnosis exists.

It is, basically, shame. And I have a paper in mind, that I want to write. It’s framed in DSM language: a diagnostic criteria for a new sexual disorder. And it’s called Sexual Shame Disorder. It would mean that these clinics could continue to charge money to treat people for something – but they might have to change the framework they’re using!

People who are presenting with sexual shame need treatment for it. And if they are calling themselves sex addicts, then, as long as we screen out the disorders I’ve mentioned, then what’s left is sexual shame. And that is treatable! I treat that all the time!

DM Someone from that clinic was on the radio recently with a client talking of how he had become addicted to porn, and broke his wife’s heart.

DD I’ve not fully formed my ideas on porn. The impact of porn on young people, particularly on young men, can be quite damaging. Clinically, there are more reports of erectile dysfunction, young men who have been masturbating to porn all the time, and then they find that real sex, when they finally get laid, doesn’t match up. It’s not as fast, it’s not as intense, they can’t find the fast-forward button on their partner to get to the exciting bits! So, their erection diminishes, and they feel shame, and they feel bad. It can all be undone and relearned. But it takes time. The neurochemistry of the brain is that they’re harnessing all the dopamine and the adrenaline, but what they’re not accessing is the oxytocin. And if they withdraw from 2-4 weeks, from all of that intensity, and understand more about the process, psycho-education, and then are given some opportunities to do other horny activities, the body and the brain reprogramme, and you can have a more balanced sex life. But I think porn has its place, it’s a great way for people to get sex education, you can become more creative in your imagination, with things that you find hot.

DM But isn’t (heterosexual) porn all about viewing, from a feminist point of view, women as objects, there for the pleasure of men?

DD There are plenty of women who like porn. Plenty of women who like sex, the carnality of it, who like sex without any connection, or romance, who just want a good hard orgasm and plenty of them. And they want someone with the stamina and the skill to give it to them. And let’s celebrate those women too, and not marginalise them and play into a stereotype that women don’t like sex and it’s men’s sexual desires that give them some sort of exclusive biological privilege that they should do whatever they like. They shouldn’t do what they like! It’s too convenient for a man to say “I couldn’t help myself because I’m a sex addict” – that’s the ultimate cop out. It’s much better to say “I did it because I wanted to.” “I did it because I’m horny.” Or, “I did it because you haven’t wanted to have sex with me for the last three months.” Whatever the reason, men are responsible for their sexuality and women are responsible for their sexuality. We need to take responsibility. Sex itself is not a bad thing. It’s how it’s used, what people do with it. That’s where the conversation needs to begin.

Dermod Moore is a psychotherapist in Dublin and  teaches the ‘Sexuality and Gender’ modules at the Psychosynthesis Education and Trust http://dermod.tel

Dominic Davies, a fellow of the BACP, lecturer, supervisor, psychotherapist, sex therapist, co-editor of the Pink Therapy series of books (with Charles Neal, 1996-2000), writer and activist, spoke to Dermod Moore on his recent visit to Dublin. He was co-training a workshop “Working with Gender and Sexual Diversity” for  Oakleaf Counselling, for 26 counsellors and psychotherapists working with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender clients or anyone who would like to improve their understanding of working with Gender and Sexual Diversity. (GSD).

PS:   Amanda Middleton and Dominic Davies will be off to Dublin in February 2014 with their Introduction to Psychosexual Therapy. Check out the link for the syllabus

Again, Anita Furlong is producing the event and dealing with admin. Places are limited and it’s booking up fast! http://www.oakleafcounselling.com/workshops-and-seminars.html

Authentic sexual needs

Our work as therapists can at times be about helping our clients discover, explore and express their needs. Like the need to be loved, supported or understood for instance. And so, we stay in the moment, with what it means to have needs and to acknowledge their authenticity and realness.

When it comes to sexual needs, how can we stay with the authenticity and realness of what the client brings? Indeed have we confronted our shadows around sex, or do we jump into trying to determine what makes sexual needs appropriate, moral, pathological… Have we found the special ruler to measure a piece of string? Who can establish that one’s sexual needs are problematic but the person themselves (sometime after long exploration).

Yet hypothesis or “diagnosis” of sexual addiction are becoming main stream and money earners for some ‘specialists’. Whilst diagnosis of hypo sexual desire disorder are undermining and patronise the asexual population. How helpful or accurate are these formulations?

Looking at couples, infallibly their own level of sexual desire will differ and may vary with time. Which one has the right level? The one who wants more sex or the one who wants less? ‘Sex specialists’ state that a six months period with no sexual activity is problematic. Peer pressure to have sex is also rife, specially within sexual minorities where a sense of identity and belonging is often built upon ‘sexual identity’.

So we are trapped between a cock-measuring attitude (who has the most of it) and a normative approach (average, statistics and research).

How can we affirm our clients authentic sexual needs, whether they’d rather hold hand and cuddle their partner in front of the TV with a nice slice of cake or have fun in sex clubs and saunas twice a week?

Dominic Davies and TIm Foskett explore the misconception of sexual addiction in Gay and Bisexual men in their training day “I am too sexy” (16 November 2013) whilst on the following day I will explore our understanding of low sexual activity and desire across sexual preferences on a day called “Asexualities: intimacy and desire” (17 November 2013).

So why don’t you join us in this learning, get your rulers out and break them.

Olivier Cormier-Otaño MBACP Accred, AASDT
Clinical Associate