Lesley Pilkington and the gay conversion controversy

I’ve just received an email from Christian Concern entitled: Lesley Pilkington Appeal.

I originally blogged about this a year ago, but if you don’t know the details, it revolves around Lesley Pilkington, a Christian psychotherapist, who currently faces being stripped of her accreditation to the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) after treating a patient who had told her he wanted to be “cured” of his homosexuality.

It transpired that the “patient” was in fact prominent homosexual rights campaigner and journalist, Patrick Strudwick, who secretly recorded two sessions of the “Sexual Orientation Change Efforts” (SOCE) counselling, and subsequently complained to BACP and attacked her in the press.

BACP ruled last year that Lesley Pilkington was guilty of professional misconduct and had broken the ethical code.

This has hit the news again as Lesley Pilkington is appealing the decision today (30th Jan) seeking to have her disciplinary case ‘struck out’ on the basis that the original hearing was unfair, lacked in due process and discriminated against her Christian faith.

Added to this is the fact that Former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey and two serving bishops (as well as others) have today called for Lesley Pilkington to be restored to full  professional status.

Here’s the text of the letter:

Lesley Pilkington is a practising psychotherapist who distinguishes very carefully between her non-directive counselling and the biblical and pastoral counselling which, as a Christian, she also offers.  She was approached, at a conference, by a man who said he was unhappy being homosexual, and wanted her to help. Lesley explained to him that she only works in this area within a biblical Christian framework, after which he claimed that he was a Christian.

After two sessions he announced that he was in fact a gay journalist, wanting to ‘expose’ her and people like her. He then lodged complaints against her with the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). He objected to the biblical Christian values used in this case of therapy, and also to the claim that ‘change is possible’ even though he had expressed his willing agreement to undergo this therapy.

Psychological care for those who are distressed by unwanted homosexual attractions has been shown to yield a range of beneficial client outcomes, especially in motivated clients. This is supported by recent empirical evidence from Byrd, Nicolosi, Shaeffer, Spitzer, Jones and Yarhouse. Such therapy does not produce harm despite the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych) and others maintaining the contrary. In this area, the RCPsych seems to be guided by the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Mental Health Special Interest Group, and could therefore be partial to one view.

We believe that people who seek, freely, to resolve unwanted same-sex attractions hold the moral right to receive professional assistance. Whether motivated by Christian conscience or other values, clients, not practitioners, have the prerogative to choose the yardstick by which to define themselves. Not everyone stakes their identity on sexual feelings.

If practitioners reject or challenge a client’s right to self-determination, they risk causing potential harm to that client’s well-being. They would also be violating professional ethical codes which, among other things, call for respect for client autonomy.

The mental health profession, which professes to be sensitive and respectful towards diversity and equality, should be aware of taking a paternalistic line that says, effectively, ‘Not all clients know what is best for their lives.’ Furthermore, competent practitioners, including those working with biblical Judeo-Christian values, should be free to assist those seeking help.

Just a couple of quick points.

There appears to be some indication that Pilkington views homosexuality as mental illness. This is obviously not a view shared by her profession, as homosexuality was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

Both BACP and the Royal College of Psychiatrists are opposed to sexual reparative therapy and as I’ve said recently, I for one could not imagine any amount of therapy reorienting my sexual proclivity. However, if a person seeks treatment for an unwanted sexual attraction, I feel they should be free to do so, and psychotherapists should be free to offer this service.

Another issue surrounds Pilkington’s use of a biblical Christian framework in the counselling, which was picked up on at the BACP hearing. It must be borne in mind that Strudwick approached Pilkington at a “largely Christian conference” and agreed contractually with her for this particular Christian based sexual reorientation service.

Anyway, Pilkington was most certainly the victim of a cunning sting operation and it will be interesting to see how this all pans out.

11 comments on this post.
  1. This week’s news and links – 1st February | God and Politics in the UK:

    [...] you want to find out more, you should really head over to eChurch Blog where you can find a very helpful summary of the case and find out why it matters. Share [...]

  2. Simian:

    It might be worth noting that BACP is a non-Government association run by counsellors for counsellors, and each applicant for membership has to formally agree to abide by the Association’s code of ethics. It would appear that in behaving the way she did, Lesley Pilkington broke the rules she signed up to. There are other associations which she could have joined, but BACP is arguably the most prestigious – and the reason for this prestige is the very strict entry qualifications, and the strict impartiality imposed by its code of ethics. Given this, I’m unclear on what grounds she could win her appeal. I’m afraid this looks like another of the CLC’s attention grabbing no-hopers.

  3. This week’s news and links – 1st February « Transformational thoughts….:

    [...] you want to find out more, you should really head over to eChurch Blog where you can find a very helpful summary of the case and find out why it matters. Share [...]

  4. Stu:

    If she had done nothing wrong then she would not have anything to fear from a covert recording of her “therapy” sessions.

    Investigative journalism that exposes erroneous and damaging practice often requires some subvertiveness to reveal the truth.

    There is a great deal of evidence from esteemed academics and clinicians in peer reviewed studies that such reparative therapies are damaging.

    A recent quote from the UK Council for Psychotherapy:
    “The United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy, … believes that offering “conversion” therapy designed to alter the sexual orientation of gay men is unethical.

    Such therapy has been shown to be clinically unsound and, on occasion, very damaging. The UKCP considers that a “free speech” defence of such therapy is entirely specious.”

    A further quote from the British Medical Association “Sexuality is such a fundamental part of who a person is, that attempts to change it just result in significant confusion, depression and even suicide. You can’t just wish away same-sex attraction no matter how inconvenient it might be. Therapy is this area has been shown to be dangerous and damaging to the individual and we do not condone or support it.”

    A further quote from the Royal College of Psychiatrists “Official sanction of homosexuality both as illness and (for men) a crime led to discrimination, inhumane treatments and shame, guilt and fear for gay men and lesbians. In 1973 the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its diagnostic glossary of mental disorders. The International Classification of Diseases of the World Health Organisation followed suit in 1992. … This unfortunate history demonstrates how marginalisation of a group of people who have a particular personality feature (in this case homosexuality) can lead to harmful medical practice and a basis for discrimination in society. … It would appear that sexual orientation is biological in nature, determined by genetic factors (Mustanski et al, 2005) and/or the early uterine environment (Blanchard et al. 2006). Sexual orientation is therefore not a choice, though sexual behaviour clearly is. … The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy has recently completed a systematic review of the world’s literature on LGB people’s experiences with psychotherapy (King et al., 2007). This evidence shows that although LGB people are open to seeking help with mental health problems they may be misunderstood by therapists who regard their homosexuality as the root cause of any presenting problem such as depression or anxiety. Unfortunately, therapists who behave in this way cause considerable distress. A small minority of therapists will even go so far as to attempt to change their client’s sexual orientation (Bartlett et al, 2001). This can be deeply damaging. Although there is now a number of therapists and organisation in the USA and in the UK that claim that therapy can help homosexuals to become heterosexual, there is no evidence that such change is possible. The best evidence for efficacy of any treatment comes from randomised clinical trials and no such trial has been carried out in this field. There are however at least two studies that have followed up LGB people who have undergone therapy with the aim of becoming heterosexual. Neither attempted to assess the patients before receiving therapy and both relied on the subjective accounts of people, who were asked to volunteer by the therapy organisations themselves (Spitzer, 2003) or who were recruited via the Internet (Shidlow and Schroeder, 2002). The first study claimed that change was possible for a small minority (13%) of LGB people, most of who could be regarded as bisexual at the outset of therapy (Spitzer, 2003). The second showed little effect as well as considerable harm (Shidlow and Schroeder, 2002). Meanwhile, we know from historical evidence that treatments to change sexual orientation that were common in the 1960s and 1970s were very damaging to those patients who underwent them and affected no change in their sexual orientation (King, M. and Bartlett, A., 1999). In conclusion the evidence would suggest that there is no scientific or rational reason for treating LGB people any differently to their heterosexual counterparts. Socially inclusive, non-judgemental attitudes to LGB people who attend places of worship or who are religious leaders themselves will have positive consequences for LGB people as well as for the wider society in which they live.”

  5. dazzer:

    Part of the problem with Lesley Pilkington and the situation she finds her in is that she regards homosexuality/same-sex attraction as a problem and accepted patients who also saw it as a problem.
    So far, so good.
    However, what happens if homosexuality isn’t a mental/emotional problem?
    What if the problem is not the homosexuality in itself, but the reaction of the individual to his/her same-sex attraction and the reaction of those around him/her?
    In that situation, the therapist isn’t providing a ‘cure’, all he or she is doing is compounding the problem that the patient has.
    I accept that there is an amount of supposition on my part here, but there is a lot of evidence from America that the ‘ex-gay’ movement does more damage than good and no matter how much ‘therapy’ is and no matter how unwanted the same-sex attraction is by the individual at that time, no amount of therapy of any sort can change it.
    Context is everything in this discussion.
    In the past, ‘cures’ for homosexuality by ‘therapists/psychiatrists/doctors’ have included lobotomies, electro-shock, chemical castration, cognitive behavioural constructs, locking up homosexual people for life and even killing them. It’s worth noting that none of these ‘cures’ has ever worked without severely damaging some (perhaps most) of the indivual patients involved.
    If you look at the history of psychiatry and pschotherapy, until recently, homosexual people have been treated as little better than lab rats. And I’m not saying that for effect. The accounts of people ‘treated’ for same-sex attraction make for horrific reading.
    At this point I suppose it’s only fair to say that I’m gay.
    But I’m also a Christian. And I’m of an age wherein my sexuality caused me nothing but pain, frustration, unhappiness and deep, suicidal depression. And all of this was before I even committed the ‘sin’ of actually having a sexual relationship.
    And then, when I actually started exploring my sexuality, I was destroyed by guilt and horror at my own self.
    I was a man that God had made, but God had made me as his plaything to constantly torment and punish. God didn’t love me. God hadn’t made me saintly strong, He hadn’t blessed me, he’d condemned me to a life of eternal chaste suffering. I had been born. But not to be a complete human being. God had created me to be lesser than everyone else.
    And then, one Christmastime in the 1980s, I was at my lowest. I just wanted to die. I was drunk, I couldn’t take any more of the self-hatred and the hatred of God.
    I got off the train to my home, I had to pass a church and I tried to get in to tell God of my ultimate despair.
    The church was locked and I was about to go home and die. Then the vicar turned up. She wasn’t happy, but she took one look at me and unlocked the church so I could go in and pray to – or, preferably, insult – God.
    And guess what, I didn’t die.
    Oops, you already know this because I’m writing here.
    What my prayers – and more importantly, the answer I received – was that God does not create human beings who are unequal from the moment of their birth.
    Human beings create inequality, not God.
    Lesley Pilkington’s therapy was not Biblical. It wasn’t Christian. She had a confused patient and she – misguidedly – wanted to cement that confusion into a patently inadequate version of humanity to satisfy her interpretation of her faith. Not her patient’s. Also, from my perspective, not God’s.
    So no, I don’t agree with you that Ms Pilkington was part of a ‘cunning sting’ operation.
    She knew the nature of the BACP. She knew what it believed and she signed up to it. And then she ignored its rules. She’s not being persecuted for her religious beliefs, she’s being prosecuted for ignoring professional beliefs.
    When it comes down to it, I’d far rather be alive and loving God than dead despising both Him and me.
    God made me – gay or straight – and God loves me.
    God didn’t make psychotherapists to reinforce the idea that God hates me and imediately consigns me to hell from the moment of my existence unless I lead a hellish existence on earth.
    If God loves heterosexuals, then God loves homosexuals just as much because we’re all human beings and God doesn’t create creatures to make them suffer. I’m not going to say that only Satan would create creatures who would be so reviled by other hu,man beings – because Satan revels in humans hating each other – but theologically, the hatred of God’s creations is more satanic than Godly.
    I’ve read the Bible a lot. God spends far more time condemning heterosexuals than He does condemning homosexuals and very little time telling lesbians that they’re wrong.
    Oh well, this is just a post.

  6. Simian:

    I agree with the tone of much of what you write, but just to correct one statement. You wrote “She had a confused patient and she – misguidedly – wanted to cement that confusion into a patently inadequate version of humanity to satisfy her interpretation of her faith.”
    Actually this was a sting operation. The ‘client’ was not confused, or sincere in wanting ‘conversion therapy’, but instead tricked Lesley Pilkington into attempting to treat hs homosexuality.
    This does not detract from the overall points you are making, but I think it’s important to get details right. We may disprove of Lesley Pilkington’s behaviour, but separately we have to consider whether the end sought by the ‘client’ justified the means. That to my mind is a slightly less clear cut issue.

  7. Stu:


    Are you suggesting that Lesley Pilkington would have behaved in a different manner if the “patient” had not been Patrick Strudwick?

    I can see no evidence she would have behaved differently.

    In which case covert investigative journalism exposed her insidious behaviour

  8. William:

    To me, the thing that really stands out was her insistence to Strudwick, although he said quite plainly that he had never been sexually abused in childhood, that he must have been and that he must have repressed the memory. That kind of thing, with a suggestible client who was genuinely distressed about being gay, could be extremely damaging.

  9. Stu:

    Absolutely William …

    Fortunately Patrick Strudwick wasn’t a vulnerable patient … imagine what sort of damage Lesley Pilkington could have wrought

  10. Simian:

    No Stu. I am not. I agree that Lesley Pilkingtn is misguided. I just feel uncomfortable with the way this ‘investigative journalism’ was conducted in this context.

  11. Stu:

    Is this journalism any different to that done by Roger Cook, Donal MacIntyre or Paul Kenyon?