British reparative therapist may lose professional association membership

Fallout from the Patrick Strudwick sting continues. Strudwick presented himself falsely as a client who desired to change his sexual orientation to two therapists, Paul Miller and Lesley Pilkington. Richard Cohen acolyte, Paul Miller apparently avoided sanctions from his professional medical body. Now Pilkington’s case is being decided by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). In the UK, counsellors are not regulated directly by the government, but can become members of charity professional associations such as the BACP. I suspect Ms. Pilkington could still practice if she lost her standing in the BACP but it would cast a shadow over her.

If the news account is accurate, one can hear the reparative theory loud and clear:

Mrs Pilkington says her method of therapy – Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE) – is legitimate and effective. The therapy is practised by a handful of psychotherapists in Britain.

Mrs Pilkington, whose 29-year-old son is homosexual, said she was motivated by a desire to help others. “He [my son] is heterosexual. He just has a homosexual problem,” she said last week.

Mrs Pilkington has accused Patrick Strudwick, the award-winning journalist who secretly taped her, of entrapment. On the tape, Mr Strudwick asks Mrs Pilkington if she views homosexuality as “a mental illness, an addiction or an antireligious phenomenon”. She replies: “It is all of that.”

And then…

“We say everybody is heterosexual but some people have a homosexual problem. Nobody is born gay. It is environmental; it is in the upbringing.”

The SOCE method involves behavioural, psychoanalytical and religious techniques. Homosexual men are sent on weekends away with heterosexual men to “encourage their masculinity” and “in time to develop healthy relationships with women”, said Mrs Pilkington.

Mrs. Pilkington, who has a gay son, sounds like a nice lady. Perhaps, she has helped people with other types of problems. However, on this issue, it sounds to me like she could use some assistance. It also sounds like her objectivity might be effected by her personal situation.

In any event, I am ambivilent about this situation. I agree that professional associations may intervene where false information and potentially harmful techniques are being offered. However, she was set up by the journalist who did not actually participate in counseling. Those opposing her might have a hard time proving actual harm to Mr. Strudwick. If other real clients who say they were harmed have come forward, I think that would change the deliberations. 

Instead of removing her membership, the BACP could ask her to complete additional courses in sexuality and perhaps consult with religiously compatible therapists who do not use reparative therapy. Even if Mrs. Pilkington escapes penalty, as Paul Miller seems to have, the BACP could use the incident to advance a balanced position, such as this one from the APA.