A couple of news stories this week brought this issue out into the open again-
Firstly, there was the story about the gay couple who won a court case against a Christian hotel for discriminating against them by refusing to offer them a bed.
Then in another story reported on the news today Lesley Pilkington, a psychotherapist for 20 years, 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.
You can listen to the short news item with associated interviews here-
Full story in the telegraph, here. It describes how a gay journalist struck up a conversation with her at a conference run by the US organisation called the ‘National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality’ or NARTH (see here for an earlier discussion about NARTH on this blog.) She then offered the man therepeutic help for his homosexuality.
She is quoted (here) as saying this- “When a therapist believes in good faith that a person can change his or her lifestyle she should be free to offer her expertise without the fear of the loss of her job or professional credentials. The equalities and anti-discrimination agendas are undermining the freedom of individuals to choose to change their lifestyles. These laws are leading to the elimination of a fundamental human right.”
I found myself feeling very sorry for this woman- she is facing a media witch hunt, as well as a threat to her livelihood. But I also find myself wondering at her naivety, and also worrying about her approach to therapy.
Most therapeutic approaches (eg Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, psychodynamic psychotherapy, Person Centred Counselling, Rational Emotive Therapy etc) start from a set of core beliefs about the nature of our psyche, and offer more or less evidence based therapeutic tools to provide opportunities for meaningful change.
But the kind of help being offered by some Christian Counsellors, such as Mrs Pilkington, starts often with a different kind of fixed position- one based on a view of sin, and in particular, the nature of sexuality-
“We don’t use the word ‘cure’ because it makes it [homosexuality] sound like a disease. We are helping people move out of that lifestyle because they are depressed and unhappy.
“We say everybody is heterosexual but some people have a homosexual problem. Nobody is born gay. It is environmental; it is in the upbringing.”
It seems (rather startlingly) that Mrs Pilkington has a son who is gay-
“He [my son] is heterosexual. He just has a homosexual problem,”
“[My son] is still gay … we are developing a relationship that was quite difficult for many years but is now coming back in a very nice way. I am confident he will come through this and he will resolve his issues and that he will change.”
I am a Christian, who has worked as a mental health specialist for 20 years, including a number of years as a therapist/counsellor, using CBT and Person Centred therapies. But I beleive that when ‘therapy’ is allied to narrow views, even narrow Christian views, it becomes very dangerous. It becomes very easy to lose sight of the individual, and focus instead on ideology.
You could argue that Mrs Pilkington gave fair warning to the journalist, and he carefully manipulated her and set her up. It is also quite possible that the full story has not come out in all the news articles that are out there.
But this kind of intervention has no place when practiced by someone working in a position of trust accredited by the BACP.
Christians are still getting into such strange waters over the issue of homosexuality. I find it so frustrating. Even if you accept the reading of the three Bible references that are unequivocally condemnatory of homosexuality as being directly translatable into our context- and there is a real theological debate about this- then you are forced to acknowledge that there are far more references in the Bible (and particularly the words of Jesus) against other things- Greed, avarice, jealousy, misuse of power over the weak and poor, religious bigotry etc etc.
Some of you may think that this is just because I have been sliding like a liberal for too long and if the Bible says it, then it is true. And you are entitled to your opinion. And to my continued friendship.
But please- do not take up therapy.