Reading a charlatan writing about charlatans

This week I was up at my local university doing a bit of training. While I was browsing the bookshelves, I randomly made an interesting find. What is Psychotherapy? A Personal and Practical Guide by Derek Gale. That name immediately rung a bell. He was struck off by the Health Professions Council and by the UK Council for Psychotherapy for a horrific litany of abuse against his patients. I was curious to see what such a character would say about psychotherapy, so I got the book out on loan.

Gale’s story is a pretty nasty one. He groped his patients, discussed sexual fantasies with them, called one a “stupid cunt”, got them to do unpaid work for him, smoked cannabis in front of them and in some cases went on holiday with them. The list of allegations put before the HPC reads more like the behaviour of a cult leader than a therapist. Tragically one of his victims, Gena Dry, later took her own life. Despite this he had some surprising connections. His in-house book company, Gale Centre Publications, listed Windy Dryden, Professor of Psychotherapeutic Studies at Goldsmiths, among its authors.

His saga was also something of a test case in the regulation of psychotherapy. He was registered as an arts therapist with the Health Professions Council (now the Health and Care Professions Council) and as a psychotherapist with the UKCP. At the time, proposals were underway for psychotherapists to also be state-regulated by the HPC rather than the current system of voluntary self-regulating bodies like the UKCP. Although these proposals were subsequently shelved, it’s worth noting that the UKCP ignored complaints about him for years until the HPC took action.

Ironically, his book actually has a chapter on “Charlatans well intentioned and otherwise”. I browsed to it to see what he had to say.

I do not intend to dwell on the proliferation of cranks and charlatans, some of whom are out to make a quick buck. Fortunately the public do not seem to be as gullible as it is sometimes assumed to be and these people do not stay in business long, unless they have some genuine service to offer…

Wow, that took some gall for him to state.

…I find more seriously worrying the practices of people who have a recognised qualification in one of the caring professions and a job which puts them in a position of trust. These professional qualifications are not a qualification in psychotherapy and a doctor, social worker or educator who claims to practise psychotherapy while remaining blissfully ignorant of what psychotherapy is, trades on the public’s confidence in his profession and is therefore as great a charlatan as the person who holds a bogus diploma.

Though perhaps not as great a charlatan as someone who urges their patients to strip naked during group therapy.

Gale isn’t the person to make this point, but there is a valid point in here about who is or isn’t a psychotherapist. A large number of professionals, myself included, are involved in providing psychological therapies but don’t have a formal qualification in the field. You might hear of a doctor or nurse doing, say, cognitive-behaviour therapy, without being a qualified cognitive therapist. In many cases those involved – again, including me – have to acquire training and supervision on the hoof, as and when we can.

Interestingly enough, there isn’t a fixed definition of who is a psychotherapist. If a psychotherapist wants work from the NHS or social services, they’d need to have some sort of recognised qualification and usually be registered with either British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy or the UKCP. However, if they’re practising independently they could vary from having completed an arduous post-graduate training to being just some hippy with no qualifications at all.

Then, of course, there’s the thorny question of what’s the difference between a counsellor and a psychotherapist.

Thinking about my own nursing practice, I’m heavily influenced by cognitive-behaviour therapy and family therapy. Interestingly enough, I tend in daily practice to be more willing to saying I’m “doing CBT” than “doing family therapy”. Perhaps due to a perception that CBT is more straightforward and less complex than family therapy – though I’m sure there’s people who’d be more than happy to dispute that.

If a psychotherapist is someone’s registered with the UKCP or BACP, then it’s worth noting that Derek Gale was accused of continuing to practice after being struck off. Though according to his Twitter profile he appears to have now retired to write books and send tweets to Ricky Gervais.

Who is a psychotherapist? Ultimately the only thing I can say for certain is that it isn’t Derek Gale.

7 thoughts on “Reading a charlatan writing about charlatans

  1. Good Post Zarathustra but it get me thinking about how nurses cannot be therapists even though they might have some knowledge of psychological therapy. Unless they are registered with something like BACP as you mention above. With the rush for IAPT we need now more than ever to clarify for everyone’s sake, who in fact are the therapists and who are using communications skills therapeutically?

    • Interesting observation. My current job title is “nurse therapist”. “Nurse” is a protected title, and you can go to prison for using it inappropriately. “Therapist” can mean absolutely anything – psychotherapist, beauty therapist, sit-under-this-pyramid-and-hum-a-mantra therapist…

      …yet the bit of my job title that people seem impressed by is “therapist”.

  2. there is something not right there 😉

  3. hmmm psychotherapist = psycho the rapist = derek gale

  4. if anyone is interested in what our friend Mr Gale is up to now you can always follow him on twitter – and although he claims to have stopped practising as a “psychotherapist” I can assure you that some of the names mentioned in his tweets are those of “former clients” and some who made statements in his defence at the HPC hearings. It is therefore reasonable to assume that he still has no respect for his “former clients” privacy nor their boundary welfare in continuing personal relationships with their former “therapist” in fact a cynical person may conclude that Mr Gale may well be still running his nasty little cult.

    • Shall we have an e-mail chat? I’m on thus_spake_z at hushmail dot com

    • I completely agree. I saw his Twitter, and see Jo is a follower of his. I had the misfortune to go to one of his gatherings, where they all had to perform in some way, when I was 13 years of age. My Father and Auntie were trapped in his Cult for years, and he made my Auntie believe her father had sexually abused her. When he hasn’t ever touched her at all! She luckily escaped, along with her husband, who too was trapped in the cult for many years. Unfortunately my Father doesn’t believe he is evil! Therefore resulting in him and his sister no longer speaking. Derek would use my Dad against my Auntie, he pushed them further and further a part. I hate him so much! It’s unreal. He’s a nasty bastard, and I would only be happy if he was dead! Nasty, but true! He sexually abused my Auntie, he’ll always be a monster.
      He also analysed me and my sister upon meeting us for only ten minutes. Saying we’re disturbed children, and that we clearly have a lot of issues to sort out, and that we should see him in the sessions. Thank god I never went to any of that!!!

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