Praying away the gay

As regular readers will know, I’ve covered the UK Council for Psychotherapy’s journey towards being accredited by the Professional Standards Authority. The professions of counselling and psychotherapy have no statutory regulator, though a private members bill by Geraint Davies MP, which calls for state regulation, is approaching its second reading in Parliament. Voluntary registers do exist, such as the the UKCP and the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, and the PSA has introduced a system of “Assured Voluntary Registration” where they will accredit these registers if they meet certain standards. Several counselling and psychotherapy organisations, including the UKCP and BACP, are now accredited.

I recently discovered that another organisation, the Association for Christian Counselling, is applying for accreditation. I then discovered that on their register is a counsellor by the name of Lesley Pilkington, who was struck off by the BACP for offering so-called “reparative therapy”, which aims to turn gay people straight.

Reparative therapy, also known as conversion therapy, is controversial, to put it mildly. The UKCP, the BACP, the British Psychological Society, the British Psychoanalytic Council, the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the Department of Health have all condemned it. They all view it as both unethical and harmful, and argue in favour of promoting inclusivity and respect for gay people rather trying to make them change their orientation.  Geraint Davies’ bill includes a clause specifically banning such therapies.

Due to the voluntary nature of psychotherapy bodies, being struck off by one body doesn’t necessarily mean that a therapist can’t join another one – though if they were two PSA-accredited bodies, the PSA has stated that they “would expect AVRs to work in partnership to protect the public”. Until recently the Association for Christian Counselling was the only major therapy organisation not to ban conversion therapies, which perhaps makes it unsurprising that Ms Pilkington joined the ACC after being struck off by the BACP.

I e-mailed Ms Pilkington, who replied confirming that she’s still an advocate of conversion therapy.

I believe that if anyone is distressed by their unwanted same sex attraction they should have the right to help and therapy. That is the issue essentially for which I have been expelled by BACP, after a complaint was made by a gay journalist posing as a ‘client’ who told me he was distressed by his same sex attraction. It was all a lie as his stated and written intention was to close down people like me and in that he has been very successful. For the moment the agenda is very much with him and people like me form a minority (and persecuted) view. But should we not have this view in a diverse and pluralistic society. It seems not.Human rights exist for some but not for others like real clients who now are to afraid to come for therapy.

The journalist she refers to is the Independent’s Patrick Strudwick. It’s true that Strudwick used subterfuge by going to her posing as a client, though I suspect Mr Strudwick would probably respond that undercover journalism is considered ethical when investigating matters of public interest. He has reported that Pilkington suggested to him that he was sexually abused and could have been exposed to freemasonry as a child (neither of which happened to him.)

Unfortunately for Pilkington, in recent weeks the ACC has also put out a statement banning gay conversion therapies.

Members who are considering using this model of therapy should neither commence nor continue to use it and any advertising or promotional material should be replaced immediately, or at least removed from current use. This includes the ACC “Find a counsellor” facility on our website.

Such instructions are likely to affect Ms Pilkington, as can be seen from this screenshot that I took at the weekend.

Screenshot from 2014-01-11 10:54:01


Ms Pilkington doesn’t seem inclined to take it lying down. She told me, “I will be releasing my own statement soon; its all happening right now. Indeed there is a ‘fight’ going on and I will explain why and the implications.”

As well as Ms Pilkington, an evangelical group, the Core Issues Trust is also objecting to the ban. They ask the ACC to “take up with the Professional Standards Authority” their objections. I’m presuming from those words (though I’m currently awaiting confirmation from the PSA) that there’s probably been some discussions between the PSA and the ACC about conversion therapies.

I e-mailed the ACC to ask their view. They sent me the following reply.

You may like to know that over recent months ACC has been conducting a review and a statement sent to all its members last Friday and published on our website today.

The reference to a certain individual named by yourself is not on a register but a ‘find a counsellor facility’ and should at present, due to constant review at this time of year, be checked each day for accuracy. We trust this enables you to complete your article.

That struck me as a little cryptic, so I re-checked their ‘find a counsellor’ facility today. Her name no longer appears on there.

With these new developments, this means that no UK counselling or psychotherapy organisation of any significance endorses conversion therapies. The message is now clear. Praying away the gay is not a valid therapeutic intervention.


8 thoughts on “Praying away the gay

  1. Hi there, thank you for sharing this important development, for those of us who weren’t aware of it. Good news. Best wishes

  2. Way back in 1995 Susie Orbach penned one of her regular pieces for the Grauniad entitled Beware The Prejudiced Analyst. In spite of the time that has elapsed since it’s publication I think that it is worth quoting from at length. (Sorry no hyperlink to the pages of the Guardian for this one, it can only be accessed from an independent newspaper archive.)

    Orbach talks about the attitudes of certain psychoanalysts and training institutes having such entrenched and bigoted attitudes that it is difficult to imagine that they will have undergone a complete U-turn in the intervening years.

    It’s not just Christian fundamentalists that the prospective client might need to be wary of…


    “You are well regarded, have a loving, stable relationship, an interesting job, good enough housing and a circle of friends. But . . .

    Inside of you, things don’t fit together right. You aren’t all of a piece. A painful hole sits at your centre. Something is wrong. At times you feel fraudulent, as though you don’t have a right to your good relationship. Sometimes, you test it almost to the limit. At work, you exude a certain competence, but inside you worry and fret: can I really do this? How long before they find out I’m a fake.

    You feel as though you exist in compartments. Some parts of you are lively, giving and engaged. Other parts feel fraudulent, motivated by personal insecurity. You find yourself taking on challenges almost as a way of life – to prove to yourself that you’re okay. You are invigorated while you are on the climb. Life seems full of hope. But the resulting successes don’t make you feel better for very long. Worse still, they can reinforce the sense that you’ve got away with something. Like Groucho Marx, you can’t allow yourself anything but contempt for any club that will let you join.

    Your different self-perceptions can coexist, but it is painful. You lose a certain self-assurance. When your confidence is crowded out by self-doubt, you wonder why you are so psychically dishevelled. You’ve not known how to deal on your own or with your loved ones with this disjuncture at the heart of you. You decide to go for psychotherapy. Friends have found it more or less useful.

    Psychotherapy has become more readily available in the UK since you’ve been an adult and the stigma around entering therapy or analysis has abated. You’ve read around the field a bit and find psychoanalytic ideas engaging. You ask around for names. You’re nervous but in an excited sort of way.

    There’s just one snag, one little wrinkle: you are homosexual. You’ve been gay ever since you could think about the idea. Although it’s been a source of confusion, especially when you were an adolescent, it hasn’t for years been a fundamental problem. It doesn’t feel what’s at issue. Of course, you’ve suffered discrimination. You’ve gone through the struggle to come out and the confrontation with your own internal homophobia. You had a partner in the past who was not able to come out and that caused friction and pain in your relationship, even though it wasn’t that uncommon a scenario in your network. Relatively secure in your sexual identity, you want help for the psychological compartmentalising that constrains your happiness.

    The snag is that much of British psychoanalytic training and teaching is retrograde about sexuality. At the heart of the psychoanalytic endeavour there is a contradiction. A discipline that prides itself on its capacity to question, to pursue the idea behind the idea, to be curious rather than censorious, to acknowledge the transgressive and socially inconven- ient, finds itself rigid in its understanding of the development of sexual orientation. While the psychoanalytic relationship is in principle a place of discovery, this discovery can be clipped by the heterosexual orthodoxies.

    Heterosexuality, while not necessarily normative for Freud, has become normative for many of the psychoanalytic institutes in the United Kingdom where the construction of heterosexuality is not questioned but taken as given. Homosexuality, by contrast, is viewed largely as a perversion*.

    That such ideas are fostered in training worries a significant group of psychoanalytic psychotherapists, who are alarmed at the invitation extended to Charles W Socarides, the psychiatrist and psycho-analyst, to give the Annual Lecture to the Association of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapists (the organisation that represents NHS psycho- therapists). For 30 years, Socarides has been arguing the position that homosexuality is a perversion.

    He believes that homosexuality can (and should) be cured. For him homosexuality ‘operates against the cohesive elements in society’. He sees a great political threat from homosexuals as a grouping and writes as though they were the dominant force in the culture rather than an embattled and discriminated against minority: ‘The forces allied against heterosexuality are formidable and unrelenting.’ We have here the personal prejudices of a practising analyst masquerading as fact and theory. Socarides’s son, Richard, the high-level Clinton appointee who happens to be gay, is forever running into colleagues in the gay community who were sent by their parents to his father to be (unsuccessfully) straightened out. Socarides senior is not simply describing how he understands the development of sexual orientation. He is on a mission. His professional life has focused on the treatment and cure of homosexuality.

    It is curious that Socarides should be given such a significant professional platform in London at a time when the institutes which provide the bulk of training for NHS psychotherapists and analysts are under considerable pressure to rethink their admission procedures re homosexual candidates. A generous interpret- ation of the event, although one hard to fathom, is that, by stirring up controversy through the vehicle of its most reactionary propagandist, the various institutes will be pushed – as they were two decades ago in the States – into confronting and dismantling their prejudiced position.

    In the meantime, our imaginary potential analysand must sort through the quagmire of his or her emotional life deprived of the guarantee that his or her exploration of self will be untainted by a psychotherapeutic orthodoxy long abandoned in the United States. Although many enlightened psychotherapists will give consideration to the individual’s issues without defining them in terms of their sexual orientation, this should by no means be taken for granted. Without this guarantee, it is hard for an analysand in therapy to look safely at whatever version of homophobia he may have internalised. He has no reassurance that his therapist has explored his own. Indeed, he would have every reason to expect potential prejudice.

    Socarides’s planned lectures at several institutes in London are in sharp contrast with the mood of many psychotherapists, who are actively lobbying for the thinking and practices of the institutes to change.”

  3. There are obviously many factors and opinions involved in and around this subject matter, thank you for posting.

    What always surprises me is how Christians who follow a religion based around love and tolerance, keep slamming homosexuality as something unnatural or perverse.

    It always reminds me of how the Southern baptists in USA used the concept of “The mark of Cain” to justify slavery and persecution of black people, see below :-

    ” The split between the Northern and Southern Baptist organizations arose over slavery and the education of slaves. At the time of the split, the Southern Baptist group used the curse of Cain as a justification for slavery. Some 19th and 20th century Baptist ministers in the Southern United States taught that there were two separate heavens; one for blacks, and one for whites. Baptists have taught or practiced various forms of racial segregation well into the mid-to-late-20th century, though members of all races were accepted at worship services. In 1995, the Southern Baptist Convention officially denounced racism and apologized for its past defense of slavery.

    The curse of Cain was used to support a ban on ordaining blacks to most Protestant clergies until the 1960s in both the U.S. and Europe.

    Lets all hope and pray that one day all christian denominations will denounce homophobia and apologise for the cruel and unholy treatment dealt to LGB people in the name of their so called “Loving” God.

    • Hi Julian, as General Colin Powell once said “Being black has nothing to do with being homosexual”. Homosexuals are four times more likely to have suffered sexual abuse as children then heterosexuals. For up to half of homosexuals their homosexuality can be viewed as a disorientation caused by abuse, not an ‘orientation’. You must feel very insecure about your orientation/disorientation if you wish to deny other homosexuals the right to therapy to help overcome it. God bless.✝

      • “For up to half of homosexuals their homosexuality can be viewed as a disorientation caused by abuse, not an ‘orientation’”

        And your peer-reviewed source for that claim would be…..?

  4. Pingback: Help make better counsellors | Trainee Therapist

  5. Pingback: When organisations fail to behave ethically. | Hexagon Counselling

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