In a groundbreaking move, the UK’s leading Christian counseling group made a formal announcement this week saying that gay conversion therapies are not medically sound and shouldn’t be practiced by its members.
The UK’s Association of Christian Counsellors (ACC) has released a document clarifying its stance on sexual orientation change efforts, saying that in the “interests of public safety” the practice is not supported by the ACC.
It is clear that in protecting client autonomy it is important for counsellors not to impose themselves or their beliefs on anyone who comes for therapy, either by implying that a particular outcome is possible or expecting the client to come into alignment with their own belief system or understanding on certain approaches to life. Such actions would be unethical and so ACC would expect any member to consider the therapeutic model that they are using to be in-line with these principles and characteristics. ACC has therefore expanded on the original statement that reflects more clearly its view on therapy in relation to same sex attraction.
The statement goes on to say that the ACC now believes that sexual orientation change efforts fail to provide patients the quality of care that the ACC’s own therapeutic guidelines, and those of the wider profession, would demand:
We have considered Reparative (or Conversion) Therapy by these principles and have decided that it does not fit the above criteria for the following reasons:
(i) Its language implies that sexuality can be ‘repaired’ and so introduces the idea of treatment or cure.
(ii) Where it is proposed, advertised, or practiced as a therapy, it suggests that a specific outcome is possible and appears to make an a-priori assumption that it should happen. This would not fit any of the above guiding principles.
(iii) It is incompatible with the Equality Act 2010. For this reason, we do not endorse Reparative or Conversion Therapy or any model that implies a predetermined direction of outcome of counselling at the outset. We recognize that such models have the potential to impose situational demands on the client at a time of vulnerability with the potential to create harm and therefore view them as incompatible within the ethos of counselling.
For these reasons, the policy document states that the ACC no longer viewers sexual orientation change efforts or so-called reparative therapy to be appropriate and will not support it.
Founded in 1992 to provide a nationwide umbrella organization, the ACC provides accreditation to counselors across the UK and provides policy guidelines, training and support to Christian councilors.
In 2012, while recognizing that gay-to-straight therapy was highly controversial because of a lack of scientific data to support its efficacy, the ACC had appeared to stand by the practice as an appropriate answer to patient and therapist autonomy. This put the ACC in direct opposition to all major medical bodies which maintain that there is no evidence sexual orientation change efforts can be sustained in the longterm and there is no reason to think it is desirable to try because, quite simply, there is a great deal of evidence that gay people can live happy and healthy lives.
A lot has happened since 2012, however. Currently, legislation called the Counsellors and Psychotherapists (Regulation) Bill 2013-2014 as introduced by Labour MP Geraint Davies sits in Parliament and calls for a government ban on sexual orientation change efforts. The bill is due to be given its second reading on January 24.
The legislation would involve a kind of government regulation that many psychotherapy organizations currently do not have as they are largely self-regulated. While trying to avoid cynicism, the ACC’s change in stance may at least in part have been motivated by the threat of government regulation and an attempt therefore to say there is no need for this kind of regulatory involvement.
Nevertheless, this doesn’t water down the fact of what the ACC has done here: it is a significant statement that makes clear that any therapist acting to provide sexual orientation change efforts will be doing so outside of the ACC’s code of conduct.
This will, for instance, have an impact on one Leslie Pilkington, the first therapist to be struck off by the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy for malpractice surrounding her trying to push a patient into conversion therapy. Pilkington has since joined the ACC, but now no longer has their confidence either.
Evangelical religious organizations, like the charity-status Core Issues Trust, have reacted strongly against the ACC’s new policy.
In a statement, the group says that the ACC is misrepresenting the science around sexual orientation change efforts — that there is no evidence they don’t work. They do so while appearing to begrudgingly admit that there’s actually no science to support sustained change is possible either. Core Issues Trust also suggests there is no research to support that so-called Gay Affirming Therapy works. This is not true. Gay Affirming Therapy is simply therapy free of a-priori assumptions that homosexuality is innately wrong – something that is supported by medical science and, for that matter, mainstream public opinion.
The ACC’s statement represents one other key factor in this debate that is worth mentioning here: as one of the largest religious counseling bodies with branches throughout Europe, its recognition that gay conversion isn’t scientifically supported nor in the best interests of patients is a massive blow to those who advocate the practice, and not just within the UKs borders. Evangelical groups in America will also feel this shockwave as various court cases begin to unfold surrounding individual states and their bans on sexual orientation change among minors.
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