Public strongly oppose ban on talking therapy for sex or gender issues

31 May 2023

Three quarters of the UK public believe that individuals struggling with sexual or gender identity issues should be free to seek help through talking therapy, according to a poll by Whitestone Insight.

Over 2,000 adults from all backgrounds were interviewed as part of the poll.

Even in the 18-24 age group, the most likely to be LGBT-identified, the data reveals that more than 60% believe access should be freely permitted.

Talking therapy is defined as a method of treating mental conditions or emotional difficulties that involves talking to a therapist or counsellor, in either individual or group sessions.

Government plans to ban ‘conversion therapy’

The findings of the poll come ahead of the government publishing its controversial draft bill to ban ‘conversion therapy’.

The ban is expected to criminalise any form of talking therapy involving sexual or gender identity issues. It may also criminalises prayer and other types of consensual conversations and would amount to a serious infringement on free speech and human rights.

Campaigners say the ban will mean that the counselling room is no longer a safe place for clinicians. If they do not affirm what their clients want and feel, they risk being taken before disciplinary panels, losing their careers, or worse.

Individuals voluntarily seeking help and support from therapists for unwanted same-sex attraction would also be barred from doing so or forced underground.

Freedom to access talking therapy

Respondents were asked if they agree or disagree that people should be free to decide for themselves whether to access any type of talking therapy they want in relation to issues of a non-sexual nature or issues relating to sex and gender identity.

Data reveals, significantly, that opposition to people being free to access any type of talking therapy they want, is extremely low – 5% for problems of a sexual or non-sexual nature, 9% over sexual identity, and 10% in respect of dissatisfaction with being male or female.

Asked whether they agree or disagree that suitably qualified psychotherapists should be free to work, if they wish, with clients who want to address each of the following, 74% said they should be free to do so on issues regarding a clients’ sexual identity.

Furthermore, two-thirds of 18-24s support the freedom of professionals to work with their clients.

Respondents were asked if they agreed or disagreed that doctors, teachers and youth workers should be free to engage in conversations with young people, where those conversations are sought by young people.

62% of respondents, for example, agreed that they should be able to over issues of sexual identity. However, the numbers of agreement in this section presented lower support, which may reflect concerns that some of these conversations may be unhelpful, for example, in affirming gender or other LGBT identities.

The public does not support prosecution

Respondents were also asked if they would support or oppose bringing criminal prosecutions against professional counsellors for engaging in talking therapy where such therapy is freely sought.

A significant proportion of respondents in the poll appeared confused by the criminal prosecution question with almost four in ten saying ‘I don’t know’ or that they would ‘prefer not to say.’ These responses suggest significant levels of unease over the issue.

Twice as many respondents disagreed with prosecutions of professional counsellors for engaging in talking therapy as did agree.

Free to talk

Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Concern which has said it will bring a legal case against the government over the proposed legislation, said: “The data reveals what we have believed all along that the ‘conversion therapy’ ban is LGBT minority activist led legislation which the majority of the country don’t want, don’t agree with and feel uneasy about.

“It is a basic human right that people must be free to talk about sex and gender issues they are facing and to have therapy if they want it.

“There is no justification for a ban and it’s not even a popular policy when people understand what it is being targeted.

“A ban will mean that the counselling room is no longer a safe space for clinicians. If they do not affirm what their clients want and feel they risk being taken before disciplinary panels, losing their careers, or worse.

“Therapists are already too afraid to provide the help that clients want and are asking for. This has ruined the practice of clinical psychology, which is entirely dependent on trust and privacy.

“Legislating in this area is plagued with problems and the government’s own research suggests that it is not necessary. It will end up criminalising consensual conversations with those who genuinely want help and support. Human rights will be breached and any legislation will be the subject of extensive legal challenge.

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