Leading church figures including the former Archbishop of Canterbury have sparked controversy by championing a psychotherapist who believes gay men can be ‘cured’ of their homosexuality.
By Robert Mendick, Chief Reporter
9:00PM GMT 28 Jan 2012
Lesley Pilkington was effectively barred from her professional register after attempting to convert a homosexual man in a therapy session at her home.
Her patient turned out to be a gay rights journalist, who had secretly recorded the sessions and then reported her to her professional body. Mrs Pilkington, a committed Christian, was subsequently found guilty of professional misconduct.
The therapy practised by Mrs Pilkington had been described as “absurd” by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) and roundly condemned by the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
But ahead of her appeal against the BACP ruling, Mrs Pilkington has received backing from the Rt Rev Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury.
In a letter to her professional body, Lord Carey – along with a number of senior figures – suggests Mrs Pilkington is herself a victim of entrapment whose therapy should be supported.
His comments – in a letter co-signed by, among others, the Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, the former Bishop of Rochester and the Rt Rev Wallace Benn, the Bishop of Lewes – will cause controversy in the gay community and beyond.
The joint letter states: “Psychological care for those who are distressed by unwanted homosexual attractions has been shown to yield a range of beneficial client outcomes, especially in motivated clients … Such therapy does not produce harm despite the Royal College of Psychiatrists and others maintaining the contrary.”
It concludes: “Competent practitioners, including those working with biblical Judeo-Christian values, should be free to assist those seeking help.”
Lawyers acting for Mrs Pilkington will argue at the appeal hearing on Wednesday that the counsellor did not get a fair hearing.
The case against Mrs Pilkington – first reported in The Sunday Telegraph a year ago – was brought by Patrick Strudwick, a journalist, who approached her at a largely Christian conference and asked her to treat him.
In May 2009, Mr Strudwick attended a therapy session at Mrs Pilkington’s private practice, based at her home in Chorleywood, Herts, and recorded the session on a tape machine strapped to his stomach.
On the tape, Mr Strudwick asks Mrs Pilkington if she views homosexuality as “a mental illness, an addiction or an anti religious phenomenon”. She replies: “It is all of that.”
Last year, Mr Strudwick said: “Entering into therapy with somebody who thinks I am sick … is the singularly most chilling experience of my life.
“If a black person goes to a GP and says I want skin bleaching treatment, that does not put the onus on the practitioner to deliver the demands of the patient. It puts the onus on the health care practitioner to behave responsibly.”
Mrs Pilkington said her method of therapy – Sexual Orientation Change Efforts – is legitimate and effective.
The therapy is practised by a handful of psychotherapists in Britain. The method involves behavioural, psychoanalytical and religious techniques.
Homosexual men are sent on weekends away with heterosexual men to “encourage their masculinity” and “in time to develop healthy relationships with women”, said Mrs Pilkington.
Her legal defence is being funded by the Christian Legal Centre (CLC), which has instructed Paul Diamond, a leading human rights barrister, to fight the case.