We are publishing the open letter below in response to a letter sent to UKCP by Therapists against Conversion Therapy and Transphobia (TACCT).
UKCP would not usually publish responses to letters on our website, however due to the level of interest in this subject we have made the decision to do so on this occasion.
This letter will remain on our website for at least one month.
Thank you for your email and attached open letter. We appreciate the time taken to collate your thoughts and views and to send them through to UKCP. Thank you.
Firstly, it is important to say that the statement is not a change in policy or position. UKCP has always been firm in its belief that exploratory psychotherapy is not conversion therapy and they should not be confused or linked together under any circumstances. Additionally, UKCP has always been strongly opposed to conversion therapy, as highlighted in the statement. To conflate exploratory psychotherapy and conversion therapy is potentially dangerous and harmful to the public. Therefore, it was important that UKCP makes its position on this clear.
The work we often do as therapists is to explore a client’s inner psychological world. When describing exploratory psychotherapy, the statement issued says ‘such therapy explores the presenting issues through open-ended discussion, and is conducted without any preconceptions or pre-decided theoretical framework regarding the person’s gender identity’. The statement also reiterates the wording of the exploratory approach from the Interim Cass Review. Additionally, the statement reinforces the fact that a practitioner’s bias must not interfere with the exploratory approach; ‘with effective UKCP practitioners not allowing their own personal views to impede or bias an open, genuinely exploratory approach’. We would hope and expect that all accredited psychotherapists and psychotherapeutic counsellors have always practised, and will continue to practise, in this way, as it is not for practitioners ever to impose their views and/or beliefs onto their clients as far as it is possible not to do so. If they do so consciously and deliberately, they risk being in breach of UKCP’s Code of Ethics and Professional Practice.
This has always been the position of UKCP when it comes to working with gender. The statement is guidance for our members and makes it clear that UKCP does not insist upon an affirming-only approach when it comes to working therapeutically with gender. As a pluralistic psychotherapeutic organisation, we do not discriminate against how our members work with clients – as long as they work in accordance with UKCP’s Code of Ethics and Professional Practice. The Code valorises members to use their best judgement to work in the most appropriate manner for each client they work with, and their approach may change depending on the needs of each and every person.
Furthermore, it has also been brought to the attention of UKCP that many members do not feel supported by the organisation unless they provide an affirming-only approach to anyone presenting with gender dysphoria. The feeling of being unsupported has been reinforced by the Interim Cass Review, which states:
Some secondary care providers told us that their training and professional standards dictate that when working with a child or young person they should be taking a mental health approach to formulating a differential diagnosis of the child or young person’s problems. However, they are afraid of the consequences of doing so in relation to gender distress because of the pressure to take a purely affirmative approach. Some clinicians feel that they are not supported by their professional body on this matter.
We have been told that many child and adolescent psychotherapists (as well as adult trained), due to feeling unsupported, are choosing to not see clients who present with gender dysphoria. This may well be leading to fewer children, young people and adults being able to access psychotherapeutic support at a time when they need it most, thereby increasing risk. By clarifying the existing position of UKCP we are ensuring that our members do feel supported to work in whichever manner they feel is most appropriate for the individual, as long as this is consistent with UKCP’s Code of Ethics and Professional Practice. Therefore, the statement also aims to help reduce waiting times and provide care for those who are questioning their gender or have gender dysphoria. Ultimately, this is about reducing risk of harm to children and young people as well as the adult population.
With regards to the Equality Act 2010, we felt it was imperative that a clear public statement was made, as some members have reported experiences of discrimination in connection with their beliefs, some of which fall under the protected characteristics of the Equality Act 2010. Gender-critical views are a protected characteristic as demonstrated by recent case law, and as mentioned in the original statement. Therefore, under the current law, any of our members who hold gender-critical views must not be discriminated against for holding (or not holding) these beliefs. As these legal cases confirming gender-critical views are protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010 are recent, many members are unaware that gender-critical views are protected characteristics.
As an organisation that promotes equality, diversity and inclusion, it is important to do our utmost to avoid and eliminate any discrimination that our members may experience and advocate for compliance with the law, including the Equality Act 2010. As stated, the case law is fairly recent, therefore, a statement informing members of legal developments is an appropriate way of furthering this aim and to inform any member who experiences discrimination to know that they have the legal right to take further action. To ignore this would, we believe, be unethical.
It is important to point out that asking UKCP to “reflect on how a ‘gender-critical’ therapist could reasonably, ethically, and legally be able to offer psychotherapeutic support to trans, non-binary and gender-questioning people” could be interpreted as asking UKCP to consider not allowing members who hold gender-critical beliefs from working with anyone trans, non-binary and gender-questioning. We read this as being a general suggestion underpinning your letter. This would, therefore, be a request for UKCP to discriminate against certain members due to their beliefs, which are protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010. This would be unlawful.
In any event, UKCP does not have ability, nor the inclination, to somehow require members to declare gender-critical beliefs any more than it could or would seek declarations of any other belief held (such as a religious belief) which could, if UKCP’s Code of Ethics and Professional Practice were not followed, potentially adversely affect a member’s practice. As is reiterated by the statement, and all of UKCP’s guidance and policies affecting practice by our members, it is essential that members approach their treatment of clients free from their own biases. This includes gender-critical belief as much as any other belief, such as a religious belief. We reiterate that the concept of a therapist holding any particular belief which has the potential to impact their practice is not new. There is no requirement to alter the current framework for practice as informed by UKCP’s Code of Ethics and Professional Practice because we have a “new” belief which is protected by law.
The statement issued acknowledges that this is a complex topic, needing further research, discussion and open dialogue – all of which needs to be conducted in a safe and respectful environment. While the statement is for guidance for our practitioner members, we also acknowledge that some members may find themselves working within specific mental health or psychiatric/psychological service settings that have their own frameworks where they are asked to work in specific ways. We cannot issue guidance for every situation, which is why in these cases regular robust supervision is essential to be able to talk through situations and make sure that the manner in which therapeutic work is practised is always conducted in accordance with the Code of Ethics and Professional Practice.
To reiterate, the statement issued on 2 November 2023 does not change any of UKCP’s position on any aspect of the issues under consideration. We remain committed to the following:
We hope the above helps to clarify UKCP’s position, and we wish to thank you for the manner in which you have written to us. We are hopeful that further research and discussions can be conducted through open dialogue in a caring capacity. In the final analysis, the safety of the public is everyone’s primary concern.
UK Council for Psychotherapy
15 December 2023