Bullied psychotherapist settles with UKCP over free speech on sex and gender

14 December 2023

Public Policy Researcher Dr Carys Moseley writes on the settlement that James Esses has reached with the UK Council for Psychotherapy after he was bullied for challenging transgender ideology

Two years ago James Esses was thrown out of his university training course in psychotherapy and of the UK Council for Psychotherapy after challenging transgender ideology. Now he has reached a settlement with the UKCP which respects the belief that ‘sex is both binary and immutable’. This is a major development in the field of mental health, and will have an effect on the debate on banning ‘conversion therapy’.

UKCP settlement on freedom of belief in the workplace

James Esses reproduced the UKCP’s formal statement on his fundraising page for his legal cases.

“UKCP recognises that gender-critical beliefs (that sex is both binary and immutable) are protected under the Equality Act 2010. UKCP also recognises the validity of the professional belief that children suffering from gender dysphoria should be treated with explorative therapy, rather than being affirmed towards irreversible and potentially damaging medical intervention. Psychotherapists and counsellors accredited by UKCP are fully entitled to hold such beliefs and any discrimination against them on this basis, including by UKCP-accredited training organisations, is unlawful.”

This is a major step forward for the UKCP, given that it has long been a leading member of the Memorandum of Understanding Coalition, which has campaigned hard for an LGBT conversion therapy ban across the UK.

First, the statement protects counsellors and psychotherapists who are UKCP members when they express the belief that sex is binary and immutable, citing the Equality Act 2010. This means they cannot be sacked for holding or expressing those beliefs.

Second, the statement shows that the UKCP treats as valid the belief of many counsellors and psychotherapists that children with gender dysphoria should receive therapy not gender reassignment treatments.

Underlining these two principles, the UKCP makes it very clear that organisations that it accredits for training counsellors and therapists would be breaking the law if they were to discriminate against those holding such views.

Other institutions still need to be held to account

James Esses is still pursuing legal action against the Metanoia Institute, a body accredited by the UKCP to train therapists, for throwing him off its course. The Metanoia Institute had done this in reaction to Esses starting a Parliamentary petition opposing a ban on talking therapy for children with gender problems. Esses is hoping that the Employment Tribunal can arrange a pre-trial hearing for his case.

Christian Concern also covered the story about James Esses being removed from the charity Childline’s list of volunteers after taking to Twitter to challenge the effect of transgender ideology on child safeguarding.

Aligning with Kemi Badenoch’s concern for children

The settlement between James Esses and the UKCP comes soon after Kemi Badenoch, the Minister for Equalities, announced in Parliament that the government would publish its draft bill on banning conversion therapy. She clearly shares Esses’ concern about the creeping threat of censoring therapists who do not want to rush to affirm a child’s fantasised gender identity.

Effect on professional ban on LGBT conversion therapy

The question that arises now in light of this is, how is this statement going to affect the current professional ban on ‘conversion therapy’? Nearly a decade ago, the main mental health professional bodies in the UK worked with the Department of Health to draft a Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy. This prohibits their members – including thousands of counsellors, therapists and psychiatrists – from preferring one ‘gender identity’ over another in their treatment of clients. This means they cannot insist that it is always in the client’s best interest to live as a member of his or her sex.

The latest version of the MOU was published in November 2022. Hardly any of the text has been changed from previous versions. The only serious change is the addition of more signatories.

The section ‘Review and Research’ has clearly not been changed since Version 2 was published in October 2017, because it promises ‘appropriate research into the prevalence and effects of conversion therapy in the UK’, within five years and subject to funding. There is no evidence that such a study was ever seriously countenanced, let alone that anybody sought funding for it.

Other signs of the MOU Coalition, of which the UKCP is a leading member, not keeping its word include the following:

Paragraph 22 of the MOU says this:

“The text of the MoU will be kept under review and altered, if necessary, in the light of new research or the appearance of unintended consequences. A full formal review will be conducted every three years from the date of the MoU hard launch (July 2018). The next formal review is due in July 2021.”

In fact the text of the MOU has not been altered, despite the publication of relevant new research showing ‘conversion therapy’ does not harm clients.

Finally, there was no ‘full formal review’ of the MOU in July 2021 or any time since then. Why not?

Given this poor track record, it is highly unlikely that the MOU Coalition will ever open its own policy up to scientific scrutiny. Already it is a secretive body that does not publish minutes of its own meetings.

Do mental health professional bodies only improve due to litigation?

All of this raises a crucial question. Do the mental health professional bodies of the UK, nearly all of which have signed the MOU, only change their approach when confronted by evidence or when threatened with litigation? As the answer seems to be ‘yes’, what else might the UKCP need to do to salvage its integrity as a professional body and accreditor of training courses?

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