Sat 6 Apr 2024 — 5 min

Trans Safety Network express our deep concern about the UK Council for Psychotherapy’s (UKCP) withdrawal from the memorandum of understanding on conversion therapy (MoU2). MoU2 is a document agreed by major UK psychological, therapeutic and medical organisations that “makes it clear that conversion therapy in relation to gender identity and sexual orientation (including asexuality) is unethical, potentially harmful and is not supported by evidence.” The UKCP also released a statement in November 2023 affirming the legitimacy of “exploratory therapy, rather than medicalised interventions such as puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones or reassignment surgery” as a therapeutic approach. Trans Safety Network say this constitutes an endorsement of gender identity conversion practices as defined by MoU2. This approach assumes that transition is a worse outcome to be avoided rather than being a person centred exploration of their identity.

This is widely recognised by human rights institutions. A recent Council of Europe issue paper on Human Rights and Gender Identity and Expression expressed concern about the rise of “so-called “explorative therapies” which, under the guise of helping a person explore their gender identity or expression, fundamentally have the same objectives as conversion practices.”

Research by the LGBTQ+ anti-abuse charity Galop has found that 1 in 5 LGBTQ+ people and 2 in 5 trans people have been subjected to some form of conversion practices aiming to “change, fix or suppress” their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. According to Galop’s research, young people were most likely to report having been subjected to conversion practices, indicating that conversion practices are a current and ongoing problem. Research by the Ozanne Foundation on gender identity conversion practices found that half of those subjected to these practices were children at the time and three quarters were under 24. The higher rates of exposure to conversion practices for children and young adults are of particular concern here given that the UKCP justifies their position, in part, by stating that the MoU2 currently applies to conversion practices against children.

According to the Independent Forensic Expert Group, an international body researching torture, "All forms of conversion therapy, including talk or psychotherapy, can cause intense psychological pain and suffering" including PTSD and trauma related sleep disorders. A wide range of literature exists demonstrating that exposure to conversion practices is associated with mental distress and suicidality.

Given the strong evidence that conversion practices are harmful and widespread, it is extremely concerning that a major UK regulatory organisation has unilaterally withdrawn from an agreement that they should not be practiced, particularly by medical professionals in a position of trust and authority over patients. We also note that in addition to a lack of evidence of efficacy and strong evidence of harm from conversion practices, these practices are founded on transphobic and homophobic premises in that they assume that cisgender, heterosexual modes of sexuality, identity and expression are necessarily a better outcome than LGBTQ+ outcomes.

TSN have also seen evidence that UKCP chair Christian Buckland is sympathetic to anti-trans ideology. In August last year, after conservative media figure and former therapist Jordan Peterson was required by his professional registration body to take a training course after repeatedly and publicly abusing transgender actor Elliot Page, Buckland condemned the decision to require Peterson to undergo retraining, reaching out to him on Twitter.

Twitter screenshot. Claire McGuiggan: "Any psychologists who are not fearful about what's been done to @JordanBPeterson need to wake up. In the UK we already have psychologists trying to use the professional license system to silence each other on trans issues in children." Dr Christian Buckland: "Well said. The psychological communities must never become agents of the state"

Twitter screenshot. Dr Jordan B Peterson: "That's definitely the point. Shut up. Or lose your livelihood. And youre reputation. (No disciplinary action implied)." Dr Christian Buckland: We should talk

As long as the UKCP continues to treat conversion practices as potentially legitimate under the euphemism of “exploratory therapy” LGBTQ+ people, as well as friends or family members seeking psychotherapeutic support cannot be confident that UKCP registration is an indicator that a therapist is safe for them or following the best quality evidence. The evidence shows that conversion practices are harmful and UKCP are in distant disregard of this fact. TSN call on the UKCP to reconsider their decision as a matter of urgency and supports the call from some UKCP members for the decision to be reversed and for a vote of no confidence in current UKCP leadership.