Members of Thoughtful Therapists, based in the UK and Ireland, have potentially identified initial evidence of a major shift in the UK British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP)’s policy position on therapists holding gender critical beliefs. The BACP has 60,000 members and is the largest professional association of counsellors and psychotherapists in the United Kingdom.
The BACP publish a series called ‘Good Practice in Action’ (GPiA), which provides information on the law for its members:
“This resource is one of a suite prepared by BACP to enable members to engage with the current BACP Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions and the Equalities Act 2010 in respect of equality, diversity and inclusion.
Using the Legal Resources
BACP’s Ethical Framework (BACP 2018) requires members to ‘…take the law concerning equality, diversity and inclusion into careful consideration and strive for a higher standard than the legal minimum’ (Good Practice, point 23). The membership agreement with BACP establishes a contractual commitment by members to abide by the Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions, which includes a responsibility for members to keep the skills and knowledge relevant to their work up to date. The Legal Resources cannot constitute legal advice or guidance in specific cases, nor are they sufficient on their own to resolve legal issues arising in practice. The Legal Resources do not give a full statement of the law. They are solely intended to support good practice by offering general information on legal principles and policy applicable at the time of writing.”
The BACP document (2023) (GPIA 108) covers Equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI). The version updated in May 2023 does not refer directly to the key Forstater court judgement of 2021, but does make very clear that holding gender critical beliefs as a therapist is now protected under the law, and is compatible with the Equality Act 2010. Holding gender critical beliefs therefore does not conflict with the requirements of the BACP Ethical Framework (2018) (See: BACP, 2023: 11): The revised document now states:
“A ‘belief’ means any religious or philosophical belief and, as above, includes a reference to a lack of belief. In order for a belief to be protected under the Equality Act, the belief in question must: be genuinely held; be a belief in a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour; attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance; and be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others. Beliefs which have been found to meet these criteria include a belief in climate change, a belief in the sanctity of life extending to a fervent anti-fox hunting and anti-hare coursing belief, gender critical beliefs (including a belief that sex is immutable and should not be conflated with gender identity), a belief in ethical veganism, and a belief that it is wrong to lie under any circumstances” (Emphasis added: BACP, 2023: 11).
Significance of the revised statement on the rights of gender critical therapists
This belated acknowledgement of the law is important in three main respects: firstly, gender critical therapists who are members of BACP have been sacked in the past for holding and expressing gender critical views. This statement will make it harder for employers to harass and victimise gender critical therapists in the future, given that the BACP, as the main therapist professional association in the UK, now acknowledges that the holding and expression of gender critical views is consistent with the law and therefore cannot reasonably be deemed to be discriminatory or contrary to the BACP’s Ethical Framework (2018).
Secondly, the revised statement on the law will begin to shift the balance of power within the BACP itself and potentially begin to open up currently closed areas for debate. Gender critical therapists, such as those who are members or supporters of Thoughtful Therapists, have struggled in the past to publish articles in the BACP’s professional journals which offer a critical perspective on the organisation’s overwhelming emphasis on equality, diversity and inclusion, or to question the policy consensus within BACP on supporting a criminal legal ban on alleged conversion therapy for sexual orientation and gender identity.
Finally, the revised statement now presents a major problem for BACP senior management, in how to manage the emerging tensions between their enforcing an all-out, one-sided strategic emphasis on equality, diversity and inclusion, and recognising that gender critical perspectives on this policy juggernaut are legitimate, valid and strongly protected by the law. It will be interesting to see how BACP will try to manage this developing internal crisis for the organisation.
BACP (2023) Equality, diversity and inclusion in the counselling professions. Good Practice in Action 108: Legal Resource. https://www.bacp.co.uk/search?q=legal%20resource%20equality%20diversity%20and%20inclusion (BACP member login may be required)
Thoughtful Therapists: https://thoughtfultherapists.org/
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