Category Archives: pink therapy

Conversion Therapy (revised 14/1)

Today I will attend the launch of a new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Conversion Therapy.  This agreement is the first time all the major UK psy/therapy organisations have worked together on a collaborative project. It’s a huge achievement for the therapy world in its relationship to gender and sexual diversities.  Check out the list of signatories to the document at the end of this blog.

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The MoU will be launched at the Department of Health and arose from a meeting last April with health minister Norman Lamb MP who had convened a Round Table of all the psy/therapy professional bodies to discuss whether the government should ban conversion therapy outright.  He was very concerned that vulnerable people were being offered what is known to be a potentially very damaging ‘therapy’.  The Minister had previously asked UKCP to co-ordinate a Consensus Statement which also was launched at that event.

We all wanted to get beyond just fine words and look at how we can ensure therapists know what to do when someone presents for help over conflicts with their same sex attractions. All the professional therapy organisations already had individual statements condemning conversion therapy and attempts to ‘cure’ same sex attraction and their existing ethical codes are robust enough to deal with infringements by their members who might think this is acceptable. 

It was the felt by all attending that making conversion therapy illegal would be impossible to enforce and unhelpful to single out one rogue ‘therapy’ amongst all the other dubious therapies which exist for special treatment would be unhelpful.  Conversion therapy as an overt practice is almost exclusively delivered in the UK by a small group of religious fundamentalists (from both Evangelical Christian and Orthodox Jewish groups) who are likely to claim persecution for their religious beliefs. They are a powerful lobbying force but it’s clear to pretty much everyone Conversion Therapy goes against all the existing ethical frameworks for professional therapeutic work and our understanding of best practice.

However, my concern has always been that Conversion Therapy in the UK as practiced by a relatively small number of vociferous religiously motivated ‘therapists’ was more of a red herring.  What concerned me more was that research published in 2009 (Bartlett et al) revealed that an alarming 1 in 6 secular professional psy/therapists (members of BACP, UKCP, BPS and the RCPsych) had at some point either practiced to change a client’s same sex attractions or referred a client to a practitioner who would. Much of this harmful practice may be attributed to the historical and existing deficiencies in qualifying training to equip therapists to work in informed, competent and non-discriminatory ways with people from gender and sexual minorities.

So what centrally concerned us, was not to scare therapists off from responding to what are often very distressed clients presenting for help. Expectations, or explicit requests, that therapy will change sexual attraction or gender identity by clients struggling in managing their sexuality conflicts in what can often be experienced as life threatening situations (suicide and self harm rates are much higher amongst LGBT people). Intersectionality issues, such as religious, cultural, socio-economic and body type circumstances also may intensify a client’s anguish and isolation, also presenting further real threat of violence, enforced marriage, “corrective rape”, illegal incarceration and even execution.

If our attempts to inhibit incompetent or abusive therapy result in a therapist saying “I can’t talk to you about this” for fear of disciplinary action and complaint then we have reduced supportive safe spaces for that vulnerable person rather than protected and helped them. 

So in the relatively easy step of gaining publicly shared consensus against conversion therapy across the psy/therapy bodies, it is really important that we invest in the harder, less glamorous and more committed work of ensuring therapists are adequately trained and culturally safe and competent. This does not just include knowing that agreeing to requests to change a same sex attracted person into a happy heterosexually oriented one is much more likely to result in harm than success, but also safely holding and supporting the client through this early stage of psycho-education and further in their journey in finding their way to own their sexuality with self-worth and integrity.

Now the work can really begin.  In this document the psy/therapy bodies commit to ensure that all therapists are trained to a high level of cultural competence in working with LGB clients so that they know how to respond when a client presents in distress over their sexuality conflicts.  It’s not enough to just ban Conversion Therapy, it’s important that therapists feel confident in knowing how to work with requests for change in the wider context of that client’s life.

Very few therapy training courses in the UK adequately prepare therapists for working with LGB people (let alone all the other gender and sexual diversities that will be coming through their door).  This document gives a clear mandate that they should be and that the professional associations which regulate therapists will be supporting and monitoring this process.

Therapy is increasingly becoming a highly regulated profession.  Although such regulation is a highly contested area, (we might want to reflect for a moment on the licensing of human compassion), and I don’t want to get into the pros and cons of this in this particular blog.

Some people are concerned that therapists should be state licensed and they are worried that anyone can set themselves up as a ‘therapist’ and offer psychological treatment and help. This is true, but it would be virtually impossible to protect every title of support.  ‘Counsellor’ for example is being used by so many different trades and businesses, and loopholes would soon be found to get around any protected title that got enshrined in law.  We already have several national voluntary Registers which are being regulated by the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) and the major therapy bodies are all well into the process of getting their members on those registers. Furthermore, state licensing does not prevent Doctors from abusing their patients, there is no evidence that it would prevent unethical practice by therapists.  

However, the PSA has no interest in addressing the standards of training in psy/professions as they only regulate the voluntary regulators themselves, not their registrants or training organisations. Therefore there remains tremendous discrepancy in how much quality and assessed training a psychotherapist or counsellor on a PSA registered register has actually undertaken. Only the psy/therapy training bodies can step up to ensuring adequate training in working with LGBT clients as a “voluntary duty” and the registering bodies show action consistent with their words by resourcing these developments in competency standards.  This is a task we’re actively involved in as the next focus is to ensure therapists are adequately trained!

We felt it was therefore also very important is to raise public awareness that any person being consulted for help should be a member of a professional body which has a complaints procedure and a code of ethics and that the professional has had specific training to undertake the work they’re seeking to do and that they are registered, insured and culturally competent and safe to be undertaking the work.

So far, the working group has focussed on Conversion Therapy as it pertains to sexuality change since this had been the major focus in the United States and the UK and was addressing the brief given to us by the DoH.  However, the tragic death of Leelah Alcorn   at the end of last year shows how important it is to ensure that we include gender variance in the definitions of what we mean by Conversion Therapies because trans kids are also being sent to therapists for their gender non conforming behaviour.  Again, this is largely within fundamentalist Christian families as was the case with Leelah, but some years ago Dr Ken Zucker, a fairly well respected Canadian psychiatrist came under criticism for offering conversion therapy to gender non-conforming children attending his clinic.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenneth_Zucker.  

As I understand it, Zucker’s point for trying to discourage gender non-conformity and cross gender play (with all the binary notions that plays into) was that Richard Green and others at the Tavi who did some research some 20-30 years ago on how many kids who expressed gender atypical behaviour in childhood and a desire to change gender, later into adolescence and adulthood didn’t ‘persist’ and ending up identifying as gay.  

However, we’re increasingly seeing larger numbers of gender variant young people feeling able to speak out about their gender dysphoria and services and support for gender variant young people are growing all the time. It would be interesting to see if more young people emerge from childhood and adolescence with a secure trans identity wherever they place themselves across the spectrum.  My own reading of the situation is, there will be many more ‘persisters’ rather than ‘desisters’ if the environment feels safe enough for them to be themselves, and not all will feel that a full and permanent transition of their gender in necessary.  I think we’ll be seeing more non binary and genderqueer identities as gender will be more of a spectrum, than the binary we’ve been seeing it as.

The MoU focused, (at the request of the DoH) on sexuality.  However, as psy/therapy bodies we shall be meeting on a regular basis over the next year to review the implementation of the recommendations and I and many others will be working to ensure that gender variance will be included in its implementation and explicitly included.

I’ve worked my entire career to try to raise the standard of culturally competent and safe therapeutic support for gender and sexual diversities. Often it’s felt like a cry in the wilderness, but finally it seems the therapy world is playing catch up and interested to listen to what we have to say and I am hopeful together we can improve the quality of care and support available for all gender and sexual diversities. 

Dominic Davies
Founder – Pink Therapy

Signatories to the Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy include:

Association of Christian Counsellors (ACC), British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychology (BABCP), British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) British Psychoanalytic Council (BPC), British Psychological Society (BPS), Gay and Lesbian Doctors and Dentists (GLADD), National Counselling Society (NCS), NHS England, Project for Advice, Counselling & Education (PACE) Pink Therapy, Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych), Relate, Stonewall, UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP).


Sartorial Experimenting

I was thrilled to make it to this year’s Rainbow List and even more delighted to have been given a higher ranking this year (No. 28) on last year’s initial entry at No.34. I’d guessed I was on the list again because a few weeks ago, I got an email from the editor at the Independent on Sunday inviting me to a celebratory party. This is the first time they’ve had such a party and of course I was delighted to accept. And Nervous. Being a natural introvert, I don’t find these things easy, but I do feel like I want to be there.

Last month I attended the European Diversity Awards with my colleague Leah Davidson. Pink Therapy was shortlisted for the Community Project award and running against some of the big guys like Channel 4 and Croydon Council as well as long standing community projects like Newcastle’s West End Women and Girls project. The awards were being held at the Natural History Museum and after consuming several glasses of champagne and probably more canapés than were wise for someone about to sit down to a three course dinner, we took our seats amongst the Dinosaurs.  The dress code was Black Tie and I had great fun wearing my second hand tux.  It’s only the second time I’d worn a tux, the first being a hired one for last year’s National Diversity Awards (we didn’t win that one either)!

at European Diversit

at European Diversity Awards

The dress code for this party was Dress as You Wish. I would have wished to wear the Tux again but didn’t want to look our of place and too formal.  But I felt this increased placement  in the Rainbow list deserved a new outfit. I don’t shop for clothes too much and I wanted something eye catching and interesting. Living in the middle of Covent Garden I set out for Floral Street and checked out Nigel Hall, Ted Baker and Paul Smith and realised very quickly that this year’s look was tiny print shirts which reminded me of pocket square handkerchief styles or even cotton pyjamas. They just didn’t grab me at all.

I popped into M&S to pick up some pyjama trousers I’d ordered online to be delivered there and as I was leaving the store my eye got caught by this incredible purple velour dress. Why is it women always get the nice clothes, I mused. Came home and ate lunch and my mind kept wandering back to that dress. If there was ever an occasion for me to wear a dress in public, then this even was probably the one. But I just didn’t think I’d have the balls. So I posted my dilemma on Facebook and was told in no uncertain terms that I ought to buy it!

After lunch before heading off to look at nice shirts, this time in Soho boutiques I returned to M&S just to satisfy myself that the dress was too expensive, or the wrong size/cut or something else I could use as a good excuse NOT to buy the dress. However, it was £40, came in every size from 8 to 20 (what size would I be?) and wasn’t super low cut or with big bosom darts. So I picked up three sizes, 16, 18 and 20 and headed to the changing rooms. Without a second glance the assistant gave me a counter for three garments and I slipped out of my male clothes and into a dress! I’m not wanting to do drag, or pass myself off as a women.

I found myself dithering between the 18 and the size 20 Both seemed to fit and I couldn’t easily tell the difference – the fabric was stretchy and I found myself wanting to get the smaller size, despite the 20 maybe feeling a little more comfortable! I’m sure this experience is familiar to many others wanting to squeeze into something smaller, so I decided to get the larger one and play it safe. I also needed something to cover up my hairy legs. I couldn’t easily see lycra leggings and getting more and more embarrassed I settle on some black tights but they need to be thick enough to cover my legs and large enough to fit me. Extra Large 100 Denier looked like they’d do the trick.

I then realised I’d need something to carry my phone, wallet and keys in. Handbags were NOT cheap and so I headed out towards Leicester Square tube and bought a £15 shoulder bag in black – multiple pockets and something that will come in handy for holidays. They had some great hats too and so after ruling out the Purple top hat, I went for a purple trilby!

My big heavy boots looked too clunky but I inherited a pair of pointy toed cuban heel boots from a friend who committed suicide last year. They looked stylish and elegant and drew attention away from my knees!

I feel very nervous going out in a dress, and remember the adage that a man learns more about being a man by wearing a dress for a day that a suit for a lifetime. I’ll get a cab to the venue and one home – as I don’t feel safe on public transport alone in a dress. It has already reminded me of the immense courage that people assigned Male at birth show when they go out in public dressed in female clothing. For most, I guess it’s their intense gender dysphoria which motivates them to present in public and show the world they have every right to be the fabulous person they are. For me, my motivations are a little less honourable. I want to learn more about myself. There will be no makeup, no attempt to overly feminise. I just want to be able to be a bloke in a fabulous purple dress!  Women shouldn’t have all the fun in dressing up!  Genderqueer allows us to redefine ourselves!  I claim my space on the catwalk!

So here are a few snaps of me in a frock.  The first was taken in the kitchen to test out the ‘look’ and so the tags are still on the dress!

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This next one is in front of the sponsor board.  There were professional one’s taken on arrival where I was told to smile more!  I must have been pretty nervous I guess!  Pity the photographic lights had gone off and it all looks so purple.

 

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I stepped outside and there was a magnificent skyline of St Paul’s and the Shard. Pity it was raining or I’d have spent more time out here.  The views were incredible.

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Some initial thoughts on lessons learned:

  • gay men in general either ignore you or see you as weird
  • virtually all male privilege is lost
  • it’s very uncomfortable wearing tights, the top of them comes up to one’s mid torso and then seems to roll down and readjusting it is ungainly and tights really squash your manly bits so that you walk funny!
  • it felt risky to walk the streets (I took cabs there and back)
  • accessorising makes an outfit come together :)

Dominic Davies
Founder/Director