An Odd Couple: Gay Rights and State Regulation
A bill – supported (on Twitter) by the British Psychoanalytic Council – proposing the regulation of counselling and psychotherapy by the Health Professions Council  is awaiting its second reading  in Parliament on 6 June 2014. However, no sitting is expected, nor is the bill (sponsored by Labour Co-op  MP Geraint Davies, Swansea West) expected to become law.
It is, however, expected to become a campaign issue, and indeed, it is already showing signs of gathering support. Those in the psy-therapy field who favour state regulation are hitching their wagons to it, the motor of which, you may be surprised to hear, is gay rights.
The bill proposes that Section 60 of the Health Act 1999 (Regulation of health care and associated professions) be amended to include a paragraph requiring that a code of ethics for registered counsellors, therapists and psychotherapists must include a prohibition on gay-to-straight conversion therapy. You can read the bill here – it is one page long.
Let’s look at some of the threads that hold this ‘object’ in place.
1. Davies claims that 16 per cent of therapists practise gay conversion therapy, and cites Bartlett, Smith & King (2009)  to support his claim. The quote from the article actually says: “Although only 55 (4%) of [1,406 surveyed] therapists reported that they would attempt to change a client’s sexual orientation [if asked] … 222 (17%) reported having assisted at least one client/patient to reduce or change his or her homosexual or lesbian feelings.”
The major organisations, including UKCP, have responded to this by banning reparative therapy, and making it “an ethical offence” to offer it “even if asked”. In practice this seems to relate only to work done by the Association of Christian Counsellors (who are not registered under the UKCP), which leaves the wider questions which are raised here apparently undiscussed.
2. The Society of Radiographers recently considered these issues with Davies and have gone on to adopt his ideas as policy. At their Annual Delegates Conference, 7-8 April 2014, they formulated their wish to campaign with the TUC to push for counselling and psychotherapy to be given to the HCPC in order to prevent practitioners from trying to convert gays to straights. “Conference notes that gay conversion therapy has recently been evidenced as an active practice within the UK psy-scene, with one in six psychiatrists, therapists and psycho-analysts admitting to having attempted to change at least one patient’s sexuality. This practice has no medical indication and is deeply rooted in the idea that homosexuality is a mental illness.” They go on:
“Psychotherapy in the UK is an unregulated practice, with practitioners free to practise out with professional bodies and their ethical statements. With the majority of referrals coming from general practitioners, the Government is debating a Bill to regulate psychotherapy under the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC). However, Norman Lamb, Minister of State for Care and Support, has said that the Government has no plans to ban conversion therapy and believes that regulation of therapists is not appropriate due to the cost to registrants and taxpayers.” And finally, the Radiographers conclude: “As a regulated profession we call on the UK Council of the Society of Radiographers to: Support the Government Bill and make it clear they believe any health and social care profession should be under statutory regulation. Work with relevant gay charities, such as Stonewall and Gay Men’s Health, to ensure that vulnerable people are protected from this unregulated practice.”
This Motion was supported by the UK Council of Radiographers and passed by Conference earlier this year. In speaking for his motion, Ross McGhee quoted Freud’s letter to an American mother in 1935, which says: “Homosexuality … is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation. It cannot be classified as an illness; …. Many highly respectable individuals of ancient and modern times have been homosexuals, several of the greatest men among them (Plato, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, etc.). It is a great injustice to persecute homosexuality as a crime, and cruelty, too.”  McGhee wants to know why such enlightened opinion seems not to be figuring in the current debate.
3. Another supporter of the bill is journalist Patrick Strudwick who came to prominence in February 2010 with his article in The Independent newspaper reporting his undercover assignment to ask a Christian BACP counsellor (subsequently struck off as a result of this article) to help him to “pray away the gay”. On 24 February this year, Strudwick penned another article, this time for the Guardian supporting Davies’ bill, and concluding that: “If the government votes against this bill on Friday , as they have suggested they will, they will be failing every Briton – not only the one in four of us who will suffer mental ill health but everyone affected by it. They will leave you, your child, your partner, or anyone reaching out, vulnerable, scared, to quell their distress, at the mercy of the untrained, the unqualified and the unethical. This is not simply a scandal; it is an emergency.” UKCP Chief Executive David Pink wrote to the Guardian, rebutting Strudwick’s article and suggesting that the public were more at risk of harm from such simple assumptions and misleading reporting.
4. Leo Abse, famously flamboyant lawyer and former Labour MP for Pontypool (and then Torfaen) from 1958 until 1987, pioneered a private member’s bill to decriminalise homosexuality. Abse’s bill was eventually passed on 28 July 1967. This important private member’s bill is apparently being prepared for spinning by the Labour Party  as one of its great contributions to this country, rather than the result of the personal struggle of one of its backbenchers. You can listen to a BBC interview with Leo Abse, broadcast on 20 December 1966, here.
5. The Law Commission published its report (following the consultation on the regulation of health and social care) on 2 April this year. The 465-page document can be consulted here, and you can find its analysis of issues around ‘voluntary registers’ from paragraph 5.24 on page 60, and its “Recommendation 28: The [existing] regulators’ powers to keep voluntary registers should be removed”. This means that regulators like HCPC could not also hold a voluntary register.
6. The attempt by the then HPC to capture counselling and psychotherapy was squashed by the Judicial Review hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice, 10 December 2010. Dinah Rose QC maintained that the HPC had unlawfully failed to address critical questions about whether counselling and psychotherapy should be regulated by statute, and whether the HPC is the appropriate body to administer such regulation, given the fact that many practitioners explicitly eschew a ‘medical-model’ orientation.
Despite the HPC’s attempt to have the application ‘timed out’, Mr Justice Burton also ruled that the Judicial Review had been brought without delay and was ‘clearly arguable’. Furthermore, he criticised the misleading nature of HPC statements. For example, practitioner groups had been led to believe that the HPC would fulfil its legal responsibility to report to the Department of Health on whether it had the requisite capability to regulate the field. This never happened, and the HPC proceeded as if the requirement to report on the matter did not exist, despite acknowledging it in an early-minuted meeting. Specifically, the judge questioned the HPC’s reassuring communication to the DH in December 2009 that it had completed its exercise and was ready to accommodate the talking therapies. He invited the HPC to “reword or revise” that letter. This never happened, and the HPC’s embarrassment was allowed to fade away when the new government changed the name to HCPC, gave it the social workers to register, and told it to drop its hope of capturing counselling and psychotherapy.
The questions now are whether enlightened opinion is still against state (HCPC) regulation, whether the new voluntary regulatory mechanisms under the Professional Standards Authority (put in place by the major bodies during the last few years – BACP, UCKP etc.) are widely understood and in good use, or whether the turmoil of the 21st century has left practitioners and public without the necessary bearings to think through these difficult issues.
For anyone who would prefer not to be defeated by rhetoric, babble, confusion and the wild commands of the super-ego, please do join the debate.
Soundings, a research report for the contemporary context of psy-praxis, is written by Janet Haney, who would like to thank colleagues for their part in supplying ideas, references, information and edits. All websites were sourced: 9-11 May 2014.
 The Bill cites the Health Professions Council, even though this institution has recently been renamed the Health & Care Professions Council in order to take the social workers on to its register.
 The ‘second reading’ is the moment for the first proper debate; the ‘first reading’ is a formality to read the title of the proposed bill into the records.
 The British Co-operative movement stretches back to 1844 when the Rochdale pioneers invented consumer co-operatives as a response to ‘the invisible hand’ of capitalism which was funnelling profits to a few, and leaving many to struggle.
 Bartlett, A., G. Smith & M. King, “The response of mental health professionals to clients seeking help to change or redirect same-sex sexual orientation”, BMC Psychiatry 2009, 9:11
 Freud, Sigmund, “Letter to an American mother”, American Journal of Psychiatry, 107, 1951: p. 787.
 In fact this ‘first reading’ in Parliament is a formality to read the title of the Bill into the records.
 On-line survey taken by the author this month.