22 October 2014
When the Scientific Establishment promotes ideology above evidence: Who would Galileo support?
The professional mental health bodies in the UK permit therapists to assist clients towards achievement of desired life goals whose attendant risks range from relatively minor (a person nervous at having to make a speech) to potentially serious (a person seeking sex-change surgery) – with one exception: attempts to reduce same-sex attraction, even with the purpose of saving one’s marriage, are forbidden.1 Therapists may assist a man or woman to accept homosexual feelings, but not to reduce or eliminate them.
The largest organisations are all in agreement on this:
- The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) affirms that conversion or reparative therapies ‘have no medical indication and represent a severe threat to the health and human rights of the affected persons’.2
- The UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) warns that “There is overwhelming evidence that undergoing such therapy is at considerable emotional and psychological cost.”3
- The Royal College of Psychiatrists says that therapy to change a client’s sexual orientation can be “deeply damaging”.4
- In similar vein, the British Medical Association’s Annual Representative Meeting in 2010 affirmed in a majority vote that ‘conversion therapy’ was “discredited and harmful to those ‘treated’.”5
The responsible thing for the church, when faced with such ‘evidence’, is of course to assess it, and if necessary to revise its position. Some evangelicals feel that, in the light of such ‘scientific’ findings they must reconsider and liberalise their position on the status and practice of same sex attraction, and the appropriateness of therapies to reduce it. At first sight it may appear that this is a re-run of Galileo with his new science standing against the medieval indoctrination of the church. But what if in this case the proposed new evidence is faulty? What if the charge of indoctrination should be more properly ascribed to the professional mental health bodies than to the church?
It is often implied that the American Psychological Association (APA) states that therapeutic initiatives for Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE) are harmful to clients. But the APA (2009), following the methodology of Scott Lilienfeld, a leading authority in harmful psychotherapies, found “a dearth of scientifically sound research on the safety of SOCE” and lamented the “lack of rigorous research” in this area.
Lilienfeld himself compiled a list of psychological interventions liable to cause harm to clients, but SOCE was not mentioned.6
In fact no fewer than three past presidents of the APA7 have expressed concerns that (i) data showing the effectiveness of therapy are being denied (N Cummings); (ii) patients’ rights are being “trampled” (R Perloff) and (iii) “misguided idealism and social sophistry guarantee that good science and practice will not go unpunished” (J Wiggins). Dr Cummings recently submitted an affidavit before a New Jersey court affirming that he has seen hundreds of clients achieve a desired change of sexual orientation.8
As noted above, the UKCP claims that there is “overwhelming evidence [of] considerable emotional and psychological cost” associated with such therapies. Its former chair, Prof Andrew Samuels, however, declined to respond to a request as to where this evidence was to be found. Chief Executive, Mr David Pink, affirmed to us9 that this question was “adequately addressed in the drawing up of our guidance”, yet the organisation has offered no such evidence at all. Dr Di Hodgson, Chair of the UKCP’s Diversity, Equalities and Social Responsibility Committee has honestly acknowledged: “I think there is very conflicting evidence ... So we have taken a view in a way which is regardless of the scientific findings. We still believe that it is unethical to seek to agree or to work towards changing someone’s sexual orientation through psychotherapy.”10
This is telling: the UKCP says first that there is ‘overwhelming evidence’; then declines to specify any evidence; then says that there is ‘conflicting evidence’; and then that they have taken a position that doesn’t require any evidence. This should concern any thinking person. Galileo would surely have detected ideological dogma bearing down on him at this point?
Similarly Prof Sue Bailey, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, has simply ignored a recent request to answer some pressing questions challenging the College’s claims that homosexuality is “biological” in origin, and that helping clients to reduce same-sex feelings can be “deeply damaging”.
Moreover, a major report currently being discussed within the Church of England, (The Pilling Report), was not at all impressed by the evidence of the Royal College of Psychiatrists which suggested that the elevated risk for suicidal thoughts and plans among homosexual people should be attributed to “discrimination in society and possible rejection by friends, families and others”. It noted: “On the other hand, the Core Issues Trust point out that the three scientific papers referred to by the Royal College of Psychiatrists at this point actually refuse to attribute the causation of mental health issues among gay and lesbian people to societal factors.”11
1 UKCP’s Ethical Principles and Codes of Professional Conduct: Guidance on the Practice of Psychological Therapies that Pathologise and/or Seek to Eliminate or Reduce Same Sex Attraction
2 http://www.itsgoodtotalk.org.uk/assets/docs/BACP-Ethical-Framework-for-Good-Practice-in-Counselling- and-Psychotherapy_1360076878.pdf
3 http://www.psychotherapy.org.uk/code_of_ethics.html 4http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/workinpsychiatry/specialinterestgroups/gaylesbian/submissiontothecofe/psychiat ryandlgbpeople.aspx
6 Lilienfeld, S. O. (2007). Psychological treatments that cause harm. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2, 53-70
7 See O’Callaghan D, Davidson, M, (2013) Out of Harm’s Way, Core Issues Trust, 24,25
9 Out of Harm’s Way, 28
10 (BBC Radio 4, Sunday 3 Feb 2013)
11 http://www.churchofengland.org/media/1891063/pilling_report_gs_1929_web.pdf paras 205-7