Friday, 10 June 2011

Lesley Pilkington case

Christian Concern, the group which is supporting Lesley Pilkington in her appeal against charges that she acted unprofessionally during "reparative therapy" to a man who purported to be a client but was actually taping the sessions to expose her methods, has published an open letter from the therapist. In it she complains about the way she was deceived by Patrick Strudwick   - and I must say I can see her point there - but her letter is interesting more for what it reveals about her mindset. Pilkington writes:
"This is a spiritual conflict and we are in a battle. We must stand our ground. We are not downhearted but we are deeply disappointed with the BACP. We want to ensure client self-determination – that individuals have the opportunity to choose reparative therapy if they feel it is appropriate for them. We also want therapists to be free to provide this therapy without being opposed by activists who insist that homosexual behaviour cannot and should not be changed. Finally, we want to uphold freedom of speech on these matters, so that we are ‘included’ in an inclusive and diverse society.
Please pray that this case will be used to totally change the homosexual agenda in this nation for the good of all. Please pray that we will continue to proclaim the love, forgiveness, hope and true freedom that is found only and supremely in the Lord Jesus Christ."

Admittedly I have very little absolutely no  sympathy with the aims of reparative therapy, nor the attitudes underlying it. I think it is deeply damaging, unprofessional and an abuse of generally very vulnerable clients. If it is going to be allowed (and I'm not sure it should) then it has to be carried out within very clear ethical and professional guidelines. I also personally believe that anyone allowed to carry out this type of therapy should be well informed, rational and balanced, and certainly not someone who believes they are engaged in a "battle", "spiritual warfare", or uses value laden terms such as "homosexual agenda", or believes that love, forgiveness, hope and freedom is found only in Jesus.


  1. Hi Sue

    I think that the statement by the UK Council for Psychotherapy is pertinent here. To my mind it is very strongly worded.

    "UKCP does not consider homosexuality or bisexuality, or transsexual and transgendered states to be pathologies, mental disorders or indicative of developmental arrest. These are not symptoms to be treated by psychotherapists, in the sense of attempting to change or remove them. It follows that no responsible psychotherapist will attempt to 'convert' a client from homosexuality to heterosexuality ('reparative' therapy)..."

    The full statement can be found via the following link:

  2. Have to disagree in part I'm afraid.
    Firstly, totally aside from the homosexual 'debate', I think it is unfair to suggest that she is not balanced and rational because she uses the terms 'spiritual warfare' and 'battle'. I know several people who use those terms who are completely balanced, rational and intelligent people, but as part of their faith they believe in the force of evil and it's influence in this world (me included).
    I do not know Pilkington, neither do I know the case in any great detail, and I have to say I have little sympathy for Christian Concern in general, however... she does have a point about freedom of speech and there are people out there who feel homosexual desires and yet do not want to give in to them or to deny those tendencies in themselves. This doesn't have to relate to the Christian agenda at all, by the way...
    Being open, welcoming and encourgaing is fine for those who are happy with their sexuality but there are those who aren't. And don't they have a right to get help too?
    As far as I am aware Pilkington wasn't openly advertising her services except at a Conservative Christian conference where her views were widely held.
    I agree if it is going to be carried out it should be monitored closey and under guidelines, but I would have no problem with that at all.
    I don't like the whole debate about homosexuality because people seems to form 'sides' and I have no intetnion of doing that, but I do think we need to be a bit more open (on both sides) sometimes...
    red x

  3. Red - you might like to read the BACP statement. In it they state that,

    "No responsible psychotherapist will attempt to 'convert' a client from homosexuality to heterosexuality ('reparative' therapy)"

    I agree 100% with that statement! For a psychotherapist to respect the views of a client who believes homosexual practice is wrong and offer to help them is perfectly acceptable. However such help should be in helping them to come to terms with the situation in which they find themselves, not to encourage them that they can be "cured" with all the resulting disasters and wrecked lives of both individuals and their spouses that, believe me, I have witnessed. To suggest change is possible, or likely, let alone to attempt to engineer such a change, is entirely unethical and should, in my view, be made illegal just as electric shock treatment to attempt to create an "aversion" is now illegal.

    If Pilkington wishes to believe she is engaged in a spiritual battle in her private life, that is entirely her own business. When she takes that into the professional sphere, then it is not. I want to see psychotherapists who work within clear and professional ethical guidelines, not who based their treatment on a fundamentalist interpretation of the bible!

    I don't know of any UK therapist specialising in reparative therapy for homosexuality who is an atheist BTW! In the vast majority of cases this does come from a Christian agenda.

  4. I must confess I am not really in favour of the manner in which the ‘scoop’ took place. Therefore I do have a tinge of sympathy for the woman on that score. But when I read the arrogance and ‘conservative’ agenda evident in this letter, I can’t help but feel that she got her just deserts at the tribunal and perhaps she should just go away, retrain and stop whining.

    What is particularly interesting here is the marriage of a worldview borne out of psychology with that of a conservative hermeneutical reading of scripture. Again and again we see this conjuring trick on the part of our conservative brethren. They are more than happy to make their own little compromises to support their own worldview, even though that compromise often challenges their worldview, but this ‘challenge’ is ignored or sidestepped. Hence reference can be made to Ep 6 – spiritual warfare; thus stating that there is a world of principalities and powers, yet at the same time saying that the way to overcome these can be through the use counselling techniques that are rooted in a secular worldview of the self.

    I have had firsthand experience of this sort of heresy (for that is what it is) from dabblings in my early 20s with some older Christians who had been duped (more correctly, happily embraced) John Wimber’s ‘Power Healing’ theology - something that had more of the flavour of white magic than Christianity. These older Christians believed very much in the notion of ‘principalities and powers’ at war – though their thinking on this had been corrupted into an almost Manichean dualism. This was coupled with a bastardised form of psychodynamic counselling where the emphasis was on healing of memories, but also of the negative influences and curses on one’s life. e.g. I remember mentioning in a prayer session with one of these people that my mother had, on more than one occasion, mentioned that my birth was mistake. The result, hours of prayer trying to break the ‘curse’ my mother had placed on me. Similarly I once let slip that my uncle was a Grand Master Freemason – I was told that this had had a bad influence on my life and ‘healing’ prayer followed, to break the hold Free Masonry had on my life. I only mentioned my uncle in passing – I had little contact with him throughout my life. This is the ‘magic’ element of cause and effect thinking that belies the concept of ‘salvation’ wrought through the Cross.

    I encountered a similar worldview during my brief association with True Freedom Trust – it was one of the reasons why I loosened my ties with the organisation; that and the fact one of its senior members wrote and told me he felt such a fraud speaking at Spring Harvest, preaching happiness and wholeness for the celibate homosexual in the bosom of a loving church when he was at the time was under the care of a psychiatrist for clinical depression!

    From reading the letter, it seems that this woman also holds similar contradictory views. She is quite happy to cling to a ‘conservative’ reading of scripture when it comes to homosexuality, but can dovetail scripture with an essentially secular worldview of the individual – i.e. the mechanisms of psychodynamic counselling - when it suits. I note we have the usual dash of conservative inverted pride, in the belief that there is a homosexual agenda, as if this is some creeping miasma that permeates modern life, with a contingent malicious consciousness that is primarily aim at destroying her work and the work of her likeminded friends.

    I will say in her favour, that I can see counselling being of use to someone who does not accept their homosexuality. Yet she nails her colours to the mast by mention of the ‘homosexual’ agenda and the well-worn lie of ‘easy’ righteousness. Forgive me if I am wrong, but Jesus noted the problems of the world come from within our own hearts. It is just easier and far less costly to believe the problems come from somewhere else... Such as homosexual agendas..!


  5. If you read some of the materials on her therapy, she apparently told Studwick he must have been abused and, when he insisted he had not, said "I think you must have let things happen to you" - at least I read this somewhere, can't vouch for the authenticity!

    When I was part of the "end times" lot that I blogged about earlier, I got told that a whitlow on my finger was a product of demon possession (or it might have been "demon oppression" - a subtle distinction) and I was prayed for with commands for the demon to stop oppressing my health! Boy, did they believe in spiritual warfare!
    Clearly - it was just a whitlow:)

  6. That's odd because I was told I must have been abused as a child! A friend was told some papyrus paintings she had from Egypt were having a negative effect on her life – diagnosis, they must have been ‘prayed’ over, so burn them; someone else was advised to break a coffee mug he possessed with his star sign on it, as astrology was also a negative influence on people’s lives – even if they didn’t believe in it. It was only later I thought this stupid, as the days of the week and the months of the year are named after pagan and classical gods – do these have ‘negative’ effects! Burn your calendars!

    One of the 'older Christians' I am talking about is a QC and Circuit Judge! Which is rather worrying that someone with such barmy ideas is judging criminal cases...

    That said a good number of people are able to put their 'Christian' thinking in one pocket and their professional thinking in another.

    I think the problems come when you can't do that - as I think case highlights.

    What is attractive about such bastardised therapies is they appeal to our desire to believe we're special; they appeal to our conceit. It is an inverted pride, where individuals can feel 'special' because they are diagnosed with demonic oppression. There was a nutty case that went on for years at the monastery of a brother who used to believe this and got others to believe him. In reality he had some kind of narcissistic personality problem, but blamed his behaviour (which had a habit of placing him centre stage and was abusive toward others – always a worrying sign) on ‘demonic’ attack. All the monastery really offered was a symbolic universe that allowed him to translate his mental health problems into spiritual conflict (the monastery was very hot on The Spiritual Conflict!). Ten years it dragged on until one day it dawned on the superior that the guy was just mentally ill. A situation not unlike Lesley describes on her blog (

    I must write a piece about my experience of Charismatic Christianity. Some things that happened were just barmy – others made you think.... and were uncanny.

    Well, I’ve a cornbeef hash on the stove!


  7. Hmmmm. I think that you are right; people buy into rather extreme belief systems because it makes them feel important - I think it is a little more than that though. I wouldn't mind if it was just a little spiritual ego-bubble, but for some people it becomes about having the security of not having to think outside of a rigid system, having support and status within a group of like minded people and - worst of all- exercising control and power over others. These are actually all well known elements of groups and cults - and as you've pointed out, brainwashing and cultic elements can exist in fairly mainstream contexts.
    I'm thinking now of that "nine o'clock movement" which grew out of Wimber's influence - you mentioned him earlier:'Clock_Service

  8. I am so glad you came through all of this and out the other end without (I hope) too much damage:)

  9. Still don't agree! but that's fine we are both entitled to our own opinions...
    Ok, yes if she is part of a professional body she needs to adhere by their guielines and I too have read some of the things she said, which like you I completely disagree with. And in fact I am not defending her, but I still stand by the fact that people have a right to go to someone like this if they wish.
    Also having views formed about spiritual warfare etc is not fundamentalist! conservative maybe. They are clearly based on scripture. And by suggesting she keeps those views to her private life you are suggesting she keeps her faith out of part of her life. Is that right? Surely we should be in the world not of the world?

    In relation to @Peter I do accept that some areas of the evangelical right are too extreme and go way too far and I do distance myself from that extreme. People should never be forced into anything or 'brainwashed' into believing that anything a bit odd is of the devil, but by discounting it all we are in danger of throwing out the baby with the bathwater, I feel.
    red x

  10. I don't know - would we say that an anorexic had the right to go to a "therapist" who encouraged them in their anorexia, for example? The Royal Society of Psychotherapy has said there is "no evidence" that reparative therapy is effective. The American Psychotherapy Association has examined 83 studies on the issue, and found that "not only is therapy to change sexual orientation likely to be worthless, it can also cause patients to become depressed and consider suicide."
    I don't have a problem with good pastoral care and counselling/ support from a conservative perspective, but I do believe that people like Lesley Pilkington cannot be allowed to be registered as a reputable therapist.

    It depends on how you apply views on "spiritual warfare." I also believe in evil, but if you interpret "spiritual warfare" to mean you are in a war with homosexuality/ or that whitlows are satanic etc, etc, I don't think you should be a psychotherapist or a medic!!!

    Of course she can apply her faith in her professional life, but she cannot behave inappropriate or abusively. In a similar way, as a teacher, I could not tell a student that she must not have an abortion or another that his parents were sinful because they were not married and offer to pray for them. I have to behave professionally, that does not mean my faith does not inform my dealings with everyone I meet. We are told the fruits of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control - and wisely reminded that against such there is no law.

  11. If you wish to discuss this matter more fully, please send me your email address and I will respond,but not publish it.
    Kind regards,

  12. Red

    As I note: "I must write a piece about my experience of Charismatic Christianity. Some things that happened were just barmy – others made you think.... and were uncanny."

    I'm not discounting 'principalities & powers" or the belief that there are far more things in heaven and earth than we can know or understand. It is just that sometimes you do know them (people making little kingdoms for themselves) by their fruit.

    What I noticed in the experiences I touch upon above concerning a small proportion of older Christians becoming overly concerned with a cause and effect, magical, spirituality, looking for demons under the bed and negative influences on one’s life, was that there was a good deal of ‘secretiveness’ in the manner in which it was practiced. I later learnt that housegroup oversight was very wary of such practices – and rightly so – as was our vicar and my boss (now Bp of Barking). There was almost something akin to Gnosticism in this Charismatic worldview, that certain people, usually women, possessed a special ability discern spiritual influences on people’s lives – usually young Christians (here I mean in terms of length of belief or knowledge of the Christian faith, as opposed to chronological age). The fact these women were often sidelined in other aspects of the church I think only fuelled their ‘mystery’ – when a more pragmatic reading could be that other, more experienced Christians in the church just saw them as, at best, misguided, and at worst dangerous frauds.

    One thing that changed my view on this – besides the realisation that discussion of sex seemed to be something that preoccupied some of these older Christians – I got the feeling they were ‘getting off’ on talking about sex in a ‘safe’ environment – was the fact I became aware that there was a distinction between mental illness and demonic influence. There is a story in the life of St John of the Cross where a couple brought their son to the saint, asking him to drive out the demon they believed possessed him. The saint examined the boy and concluded the boy was just mad and that his parents should care for him. I wish I had read this before I and a few friends at the Christian nightshelter where I then worked decided we could ‘pray’ a knife of a man hearing voices. I have a knife scar on my right hand and I and/or my fellow colleagues are VERY lucky we weren’t killed! Twenty-five years on and my stomach still tightens at the thought of this foolishness – it was fuelled by a poor understanding of mental illness, Christian theology and more than a dash of conceit, that we knew how to handle such things and at the power of Jesus’ name the man would do as WE wanted him to do. I think the emphasis of the relationship and the reality of our desires perhaps suggested why our efforts were doomed from the start. The upshot of this event was a much better understanding of the place of overt Charismatic Christianity in caring for the vulnerable and moreover that we went out of our way to have the man round for a meal once he was out of the psychiatric hospital, to show we didn’t bear him any grudge for trying to kill us. Perhaps the last bit is the only true ‘Christian’ aspect of the story!


  13. Suem

    happy memories - many of us in Leeds in the late 80s would speed down the M1 to Sheffield on a Sunday evening to the NOS. And then spend the car journey back to Leeds finding fault in what we'd taken part in!

    Happy Days!


  14. Ok... thing about annorexia is it can be life threatening and physically very damaging, so not really an equal. In terms of professional advice etc I agree, in certain professions one must be careful about the advice one gives, but the point I am making is that people from a particular religious persuasion should be able to seek counselling from someone who echoes their belief, as you have mentioned above. I mean you use the example of abortion, I am sure there must be Roman Catholic counsellors out there, who would give advice based on their religious views. So where is the line drawn? If we get into governing bodies etc then it is unlikley people of faith will be able to share any of their views in their professional life. Eg: NHS staff not allowed to pay with patients and so on..
    Look, I am not saying I think reparative therapy is right I just think people in the position I mentioned before have a right to get help from someone who shares their viewpoint. And we are not talking completely extreme here, there are lots of conservative evangelicals who share Pilkingtons view (which I don't)...
    And aside from that, as noted, she was totally set up. Strudwick completely lied to her so she was treating him for what he asked her to treat him for! Advertising her wares, as it were, and openly pushing her beliefs upon patients would be different I absolutely accept that.

    Hi Peter, yes I accept, you know whether something spiritual is really going on by the fruit. And I agree that too much emphasis on alomst 'looking' for the demonic is not healthy. I am not sure quite what you are getting at with the example of more mature Christians, can yuo explain further? certainly in the example you gave it does seem to be rather bizarre that there would be this secretive group doing stuff behind closed doors. Is that what you are implying about Pilkington?
    There always needs to be accounability in the church just as for Pilkington too, I don't know what her routes are aside from the governing body. Is she accountable to her church leaders? are they aware of what she is doing?
    Sorry I realise I might be stirring things here, but its not deliberate, I am actually very interested!

    Lastly it's very interesting the bit about the chap with the mental illness, because I stand with you, I think some stuff is spiritual and others not, but I think the church should be prepared for both. Funny story which you may ahve heard.. Christian man drowing in a river, prays for help. Suddenly he sees a branch floating in the river, but he thinks I have faith that the Lord will save me so he ignores it. then a man walks by and says do you need help, and he replies, no thanks God is going to save me. Then a boat goes by and offers to pull him out and he says, not My God will rescue me, I have faith. of course he eventually drowns and ends up at the gates of heaven. He says to God, but I prayed why didnt you help me? God says, for goodness sake, I sent you a branch, a man and a boat, what more do you want... :)
    The point being, here, that we do have medicine and science and it isn't exclusive! So I agree, lets use it, but be discerning too!

  15. Red

    Thanks for this.

    My comment on 'older' (I purposefully didn't say 'mature') Christians was reference to how as 'young' Christians, some older Christians (and here I mean in terms of length of time as a Christian, not necessarily the same as chronological age) set themselves up as authorities on 'deliverance' ministry - sometimes at odds with discipline and teaching in the church. I was referring to specific incidences, tho’ I suspect, from conversations with others, there are many who have experienced this phenomenon in churches.

    I find the story of the man drowning very interesting, I have not heard it before, but have heard stories like it. What I am going to say will sound awful, but it is just my take on such stories. I find such thinking as these little parables are informed by is one of the main reasons why I have problems with the idea of a personal God who is ‘there for me’ in the trials and problems of life. The difficulty for Christians (or Jews or Muslims, whose cultures abound with similar stories) is that the story is just explaining why miracles don’t happen – ‘Ah, God gave us science and medicine – that’s why miracles don’t happen!’ Thank God, but why did he wait until the end of the 19th century to do this? What about the centuries before science and medicine were effective and people died (as they do today in the developing world) of dirty water and (more worryingly) of the ‘medicine’ practiced at the time (you were more likely to live if a doctor DIDN’T treat you in the 18th & early 19th centuries). I am constantly amused, reading their blogs, by how ‘fundamentalists’ (or their near kin) write post after post opposing Darwin and ideas about Evolution and telling us of the inerrancy of Scripture – and then a post will appear telling of their recent visit to hospital and a good deal then follows thanking God for doctors. So much for putting your money where your mouth is! They aren’t daft enough to rely on prayer and faith alone whatever Jesus tells them to do in the Bible! The basis of medicine, empirical positivism, is what led Darwin to his conclusions... But no – our Fundamentalist friends can hold contrary beliefs because God sent the doctor to help me... I think the latter pronoun says it all really – our endemic conceit that whatever happens in the world is about us and for our benefit... The unsaid bit - often unconscious, but nevertheless there – because I’m special...

    Now look what you’ve done, Red, you’ve got me on my soap box. Take out the salt and add a generous pinch!