British Psychological Society investigated over puberty blockers

30 April 2021

Carys Moseley comments on the recent news that the Charity Commission has begun an investigation into the British Psychological Society over its approach to prescribing drugs.

The British Psychological Society is being investigated by the Charity Commission over its approach to psychologists’ right to prescribe drugs, including puberty blockers. This highly unusual dispute opens up major questions about the mental health profession. Ultimately it touches upon how we believe human beings should relate to their bodies.

Although the Telegraph article that reported the story does not say it, this ultimately stems from the Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy in the UK. The Memorandum prohibits mental health professionals from conducting psychotherapy that assumes one ‘gender identity’ is preferable to another. This means that psychotherapists are not allowed to work on the assumption that it is always better for a man suffering from gender dysphoria to be treated as a man by a therapist. Psychotherapists are required to assume that there is no absolute right and wrong in this field. This would put any Christian mental health professional who wants to help gender-disturbed clients live as members of their sex in professional trouble.

Complaints by British Psychological Society members

At least ten complaints have been made to the Charity Commission about governance and management of the BPS. The president-elect of the BPS is one of the complainants. Retired psychologist Pat Harvey wrote a letter on behalf of those concerned relating “the collapse of legitimate administration, policy and practice at the BPS.” Harvey and two other retired psychologists run the blog BPSWatch.

These problems have been rumbling on for months. Back in February, one of the trustees, David Murphy, resigned citing concerns about lack of transparency among other things. Previously, the finance director had resigned in January. The BPSWatch blog also reveals that the BPS has applied to the Professional Standards Authority to have an accredited register of psychologists. The BPS dissidents intend to articulate their concerns to the PSA as well.

Should psychologists be allowed to prescribe medication?

In 2016 NHS England asked the BPS to look into whether some psychologists should be able to train to prescribe medication. Currently all medical doctors and dentists have the right to prescribe medication for patients. Many types of non-medical healthcare professionals are also allowed the right to prescribe. These include nurses, midwives, pharmacists, physiotherapists, podiatrists, paramedics, optometrists, therapeutic radiographers, diagnostic radiographers and dietitians.

Psychiatrists, who all require medical training, can already prescribe drugs for mental problems. Those psychologists who work with people with mental problems tend to have a different relationship with them than do psychiatrists. They would spend more time talking with them. However, unlike psychiatrists, psychologists do not need to be medically trained. Those arguing for prescribing rights argue that psychologists can be given adequate training for prescribing drugs. However, many disagree.

General concerns about medication

Some BPS members fear that should such a right be accorded to psychologists, the result would be more prescription of anti-depressants. Some are also critical of what they see as the existing tendency to over-medication of patients being made worse. These kinds of debates, on whether to treat mental problems more through talking or through physical treatments, are not new and will not be settled anytime soon. What matters here is that the debate has been distorted by support for puberty-blocking drugs.

The right to prescribe drugs as such was recommended in a BPS report published in November 2020. Former BPS president Peter Kinderman said members had tried to make recommendations in favour even before the BPS consultation had ended. He said, “the agenda seemed to be driven by hormone blockers.” The Charity Commission told the Telegraph that the BPS had ignored a letter sent by over a hundred members on this matter. The text of the letter can be read online here on the BPSWatch blog. The letter was sent in October 2020 to the BPS president.

Do psychologists really want to prescribe drugs?

It isn’t evident that most psychologists actually want the right to prescribe drugs for patients. The letter by BPS dissidents to the society complained that it had not run its consultation on the subject in a fair manner. They claimed most members were unaware of the consultation, and that only counselling psychologists were really consulted. It called for all BPS members including the Divisions of the society most likely to be affected to be consulted.

At the same time these dissidents pointed out that the Association of Clinical Psychologists in the UK had surveyed its own members. It found that most (58%) did not want to be able to prescribe drugs. There was little enthusiasm and some worry as to whether other clinical psychologists should be allowed to do so.

Puberty blockers are experimental

If it is true that the BPS approach to prescribing rights has been biased by support for prescribing puberty blocking drugs, this is even more problematic. For these drugs are not like other treatments in medicine and healthcare.

The experimental nature of puberty blockers, the way in which they are intended to stop the natural and necessary process of puberty, make them anti-medical. The fact that the High Court was told that most children prescribed them go on to receive cross-sex hormones – another form of treatment contrary to real medicine – only compounds the problem. The psychological profession faces a much bigger problem here. It needs to ask itself how did its main professional body allow psychology to prioritise people’s fantasies of belonging to the opposite sex above and against aiding harmony between mind and body. As Christians, we can say that this is ultimately a direct attack on how God has created us male and female.

The unworkable ‘conversion therapy’ ban

Peter Kinderman told the Telegraph that if the BPS doesn’t get this right, “we’ll leave this important business to other people who will tell nonsense to the public.” This cryptic comment does not make sense. The real problem is that the BPS is already telling nonsense to the public. This is for two reasons: the BPS guidelines on working with gender and sexually diverse clients, and the BPS being given prominence in implementing the Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy.

Indeed, what the Telegraph did not point out is that the latest version of the Memorandum, published in 2019, assumes prescription of drugs. Former BBC journalist Shelley Charlesworth exposed this on the Transgender Trend blog last year. The wording of section 6 of the Memorandum had the following words added to it:

“Nor is [the Memorandum] intended to stop professionals from prescribing hormone treatments and other medications to trans patients and people experiencing gender dysphoria.”

The BPS has some explaining to do here. It responded angrily to the Telegraph on Monday saying that the decision over prescribing rights will ultimately be made by Parliament, almost as if to distance itself from its own stated view. If so, why did it push the envelope back in 2019?

Gender and Sexuality Diversity in psychology

It is relevant that the Telegraph found that some BPS members were on the panel on prescribing rights and the panel on Gender and Sexuality Diversity. Shelley Charlesworth had already pointed this out in her report. Gender and Sexuality Diversity (GSD) is a term invented by Pink Therapy CEO Dominic Davies to replace the term ‘LGBT’. (The term now also encompasses ‘relationships diversity’, which is code for promiscuity and ‘open relationships’. Hence ‘GSRD’.) He was the one who pushed hard for the Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy of 2014 to be revised to prohibit treatment of gender identity.

BPS GSD guidelines were first published in 2012, and formed part of its work to support drafting the Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy. These guidelines were written by a team of psychologists who were LGBT activists, including a non-binary female-born activist, Dr Meg-John Barker. Reading them we realise that banning therapy for gender identity problems was a foregone conclusion. Banning therapy for same-sex attraction came with the first version of the Memorandum in 2015. With hindsight we can see that this proved to be a Trojan Horse.

Has former BPS president changed his mind?

Dominic Davies is a key figure in all of this, as I have previously explained. Charlesworth agrees and quotes James Caspian to this effect.  Dominic Davies represented the ‘working group on the Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy’ in a meeting with Jane Ellison MP, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health, in 2016. In 2017, Davies published a letter on his Pink Therapy blog by the heads of several mental health professional bodies supporting the second version of the Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy prohibiting therapy for gender identity. The aforementioned Peter Kinderman signed it in his capacity as president of the BPS. Here is what the letter said:

“We the undersigned UK organisations wish to state that the practice of conversion therapy has no place in the modern world.  It is unethical and harmful and not supported by evidence.

“Conversion Therapy is the term for therapy that assumes certain sexual orientations or gender identities are inferior to others, and seeks to change or suppress them on that basis.

“Sexual orientations and gender identities are not mental health disorders, although exclusion, stigma and prejudice may precipitate mental health issues for any person subjected to these abuses. Anyone accessing therapeutic help should be able to do so without fear of judgement or the threat of being pressured to change a fundamental aspect of who they are.”

Has Kinderman changed his mind on psychotherapy for gender identity since he signed this letter?

Who’s afraid of the Tavistock court case?

There is an obvious reason for the sudden opposition to psychologists being given the right to prescribe puberty blockers. It is fear that the BPS will lose the trust of the public over this. Indeed, the dissidents say as much. However what is not said is that this comes so soon after the High Court restricted the Tavistock clinic’s right to refer children for puberty blockers. As such, it has struck at the rotten core of the mental health professional bodies that have all signed the Memorandum. We do not actually know what Peter Kinderman and other BPS dissidents really think about what therapeutic approach is right for gender identity problems. Given that he signed the prohibition on therapy that prefers one ‘gender identity’ to another, we must assume that in 2017 he did not favour requiring all therapy to help clients live as members of their sex.

It isn’t just the British Psychological Society that is under scrutiny here. The dissidents too need to come clean. The Charity Commission website says that the BPS helps ‘the general public/mankind’. We are all designated potential beneficiaries of the work of the BPS. We can all be harmed by transgender ideology, and by nonsense that pits fantasies above bodily integrity. The dissidents need to spell out plainly their stance on therapy for gender identity. Stopping the prescription of puberty blockers only opens up the question of what therapy should do. Should it assume that all clients are to be helped to be reconciled to their bodies? If so, the dissidents need to come clean and call for the Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy to be scrapped.

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