This post draws on information from Freedom Of Information (FOI) requests to all 211 NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups in England. It was published in my personal blog on 14 September. It’s a hefty 5000-word piece, but if you want further information, please head over and have a read.

If you’re interested in publicising this information more widely, you must email me first

Since we started our campaign against gay to straight conversion therapy, the Government has made some very positive moves against the practice of gay conversion. Parties of all colours are now talking far more about the problem.

It’s hard to believe that just a few years ago, none of the voluntary registers which accredit counsellors and psychotherapists – not least the two largest, the BACP and UKCP – had made any statements against the practice. Indeed, one of the conversion therapists who attempted to cure Patrick Strudwick was accredited with the BACP at the time.

Things are much more positive now. Before our campaign kicked off, Strudwick’s therapist was struck off and the BACP and UKCP made positive statements against the practice. Since the onset of our campaign, the Department of Health has moved to take measures against the practice. Lib Dem Health Minister Norman Lamb has arranged for a a joint statement condemning the practice by major counselling and psychotherapy organisations, alongside Stonewall. He’s also promised to monitor and ensure that no NHS bodies commission the therapy for their patients. Awareness of the problem has been raised, and if you go on an NHS choices website describing different types of therapy, there’s now a small section on conversion therapy. It bluntly reassures readers that “sexual orientation is not a mental health problem.”

But this, surely, can’t be the end of it. For one, Norman Lamb has ruled out a ban on the practice because he feels that it may make therapists who want to positively help LGBT patients weary of doing so. As the Guardian quoted him back in April:

“There will be people who want help with coming to terms with their sexuality and need to be able to seek support from a professional,” he said. It was important to avoid a situation where a doctor or therapist felt they could not counsel someone in that situation. “We must not end up with a situation where we end up with people fearing they will be prosecuted.”

Secondly, Norman Lamb has ruled out statutory regulation of counsellors and psychotherapists. This means that people can practice in this sector without being part of professional bodies, like those above, which have made statements against the practice. As he told us during a Westminster Hall Debate about conversion therapy on 20 November 2013:

“We believe that statutory regulation would not be appropriate and the costs to registrants or the taxpayer could not be justified. This is not to say that we are ruling out statutory regulation for this group for ever. We will continue to assess the need for it. I give an absolute assurance about that.”

Thirdly and finally, the Department of Health appears to have carried out no investigations whatsoever as to whether or not the NHS commissions unaccredited counsellors and psychotherapists. We thus don’t know whether it is the policy of bodies which commission counselling and psychotherapy – most especially Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), which play a major role in commissioning such services following the Coalition’s top-down reorganisation – to only use counsellors and psychotherapists which are accredited to bodies such as the BACP and UKCP.

Working with Diana Johnson MP, we’ve thus made Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to all 211 CCGs in England asking about their policies in this area. The full findings are published in my personal blog and – though it’s a hefty read – I encourage anyone with an interest in this issue to go and skim through it. There’s an interactive map setting out every CCG’s policy.

The findings are troubling. They provide evidence, finally, that some NHS bodies don’t check whether or not counsellors and psychotherapists are accredited with professional bodies before they use them. As I highlight in my blog, I believe this poses considerable problems when it comes to tracking unscrupulous practitioners and ensuring they don’t gain posts elsewhere in the NHS.

To me, these findings have much broader implications for the services people can expect to receive in the burgeoning mental health sector. Conversion therapy is a tiny part of this issue, and there is a risk of over-stating the issue.

Nevertheless, I feel the information I’ve gathered  shows that the NHS needs to beef up the way it commissions counselling and psychotherapy. Sure, we now know that if you’re a member of a professional body and you’re found to practice conversion therapy, you should be struck off by your professional body. But if NHS bodies don’t check with professional bodies to ensure all practitioners are accredited – or, to use the NHS jargon, compel “Providers” they “commission” to check all their practitioners are accredited – then how would you know that a therapist you employed had been struck off?

This really undermines the ability of patients maltreated by unscrupulous practitioners – whether it be through conversion therapy, or any other form of maltreatment – to achieve proper redress. The only way you can achieve proper justice is if you compel all public bodies to only commission accredited therapists – which can best be achieved by making counselling and psychotherapy a statutorily-regulated profession – and by implementing a law to ban conversion therapy.

Norman Lamb’s view that a ban would prevent good therapists from helping seems rather perplexing. Given that many US states have now implemented bans on this practice, a great body of evidence will soon emerge as to whether this is true or not, and whether US therapists have found the ban a barrier to genuinely helping their patients explore their sexuality in a positive and constructive manner. If Lamb thinks this, he should at least commit the DoH to monitoring how the situation develops in the US.

My blog post goes into more detail on the measures which need to be taken. But to cut a long story short: until the Government does takes measures to ban the practice and regulate counseling and psychotherapy, our fight goes on.

By Tom Stephens.

One thought on “Gay-to-Straight Conversion Therapy Campaign Update – the NHS Uses Unaccredited Counsellors and Psychotherapists

  1. Tom is to be congratulated on doing such a meticulous piece of research and the government must ensere that only licensed therapists are allowed to operate. However, Conversion Therapy must also be made illegal at least for those under 18. In the USA licensed therapists can still carry out conversion therapy. Conversion therapy does not work and it does harm. The state has a duty to protect its citizens from harm.


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