A version of this article was published by Pink News.
50 years on from the Stonewall riots a month of Pride celebrations will see millions of people unite across the world in support of LGBT+ rights. Yet despite the successes of liberation movements in recent decades the practice of conversion therapy, an outdated and cruel practice which attempts to ‘treat’ a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation, is still legal in the UK.
The Trump administrations’ recent decision to ban transgender individuals from active military service serves as a reminder that hard-won progress is constantly under threat. In the UK, the divisive politics of Brexit have coincided with a surge in hate crimes which undermine principles of tolerance and equality. The responsibility falls to all of us to fight against the rising tide of prejudice.
That’s why I am championing a bill which will bring an end to the injustice of conversion therapy. Today marks a year since the publication of the government’s 2018 LGBT action plan, but legislation to criminalise conversion therapy is yet to be brought forwards. My new Counsellor and Psychotherapist (Regulation) and Conversion Therapy Bill empowers the government to deliver on the promises of the LGBT action plan and enables people to hold practitioners accountable.
Shockingly, under the current law anyone can claim to be a counsellor or psychotherapist, “treat” people for mental health conditions without any prior training or experience and then charge them hundreds of pounds for the privilege. What’s more, Psychotherapist’ and ‘counsellor’ are not protected titles so patients may inadvertently fall into the hands of practitioners who lack qualifications and experience and practice non-evidence-based treatment without regulation.
With suicide the single biggest killer of men under 45, it is simply unacceptable that at-risk individuals could be treated by people who lack any professional qualifications. Yes, the majority of counsellors and psychotherapists are hard-working, compassionate individuals. However, the current lack of regulation is allowing a small minority to exploit vulnerable people who are seeking support for mental health conditions.
A lack of safeguards for patients and the misuse of titles has allowed the practice of conversion therapy to flourish. An alarming 7% of LGBT+ individuals in the UK have undergone or been offered conversion therapy and as a consequence many have suffered long-term mental health conditions. Not only is there no evidence to suggest that conversion therapy successfully alters sexual orientation or gender identity, the practice can be profoundly harmful.
The Ozanne foundation found that 50% of people surveyed developed mental health issues after undergoing conversion therapy and a third of those individuals attempted suicide. This appalling practice is inflicting permanent damage on our children with over half of the respondents who had experienced conversion therapy being under 18 at the time and less than a third going on to lead happy and fulfilling lives.
While most counselling and psychotherapy bodies condemn the practice of conversion therapy, individuals who have been disaffiliated from an accredited body can continue to use the term ‘counsellor’ or ‘psychotherapist’ or practice with a different organisation. In a landmark ruling in 2014, Lesley Pilkington was struck off from British Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapists for practising conversion therapy. However, she has continued to offer psychotherapy as part of the Association of Christian Counsellors.
The incidence of conversion therapy is much higher amongst religious communities making the issue more intractable. However, safeguards for freedom of religious practice and belief must not be permitted to become a smokescreen for bigotry. It is simply unacceptable that in 2019 conversion therapy and other abuse is allowed to continue and that victims have no recourse to hold practitioners accountable under the law.
Enough is enough. Half a century on from the Stonewall riots it is vital that the Government takes action to ensure that anyone seeking support for their mental health is not subjected to this type of abuse. Only then will patients have the protection, confidence and peace-of-mind they deserve that their therapist or counsellor has their best interests at heart.
Principles of equality and social justice demand that the practice of conversion therapy be outlawed.