PCU at Pink Therapy’s conference: ‘Sex works! – The intersection of mental health and sexuality




Posted by Philip Cox

PCU at Pink Therapy’s conference: ‘Sex works! – The intersection of mental health and sexuality professionals’


http://www.pinktherapy.com/


The 6th annual Pink Therapy conference titled, ‘Sex works! – The intersection of mental health and sexuality professionals’ took place 23-24th March 2018. Eighty people attended this sold out beyond cutting edge event. Day 1 focused on conference presentations, workshops and spaces to meet with various sex-work and body-work disciplines. These included Urban Tantra, Conscious Kink, Sex Coaches, Sacred Intimates, Surrogates and Sexological Body Workers. Day 2 focused more on ethics. The day began with the personal perspective from three speakers around ‘Being a therapist and a sex worker’. Issues covered working in different sex-related areas with some not involving physical contact, “being denied the opportunity to be myself in training”, and curiously being accepted by a university training team yet stigmatised by peers for having the dual roles of trainee and sex worker. A qualified therapist and Dom explained that as sex work pays much more than individual therapy, the level of commitment to practice mainstream therapy is high.


Moving from the personal lived experience to the regulatory bodies, senior representatives from BACP and then UKCP discussed, ‘Working within current ethical frameworks’. Looking through the lens of exploring how sex works and the intersection of mental health and sexuality, these speakers seemed to raise more questions than answers. Many delegates felt unsupported and distrustful of training institutions and of the regulators, who the delegates felt lacked appreciation of what their practices contribute to therapy. Delegates also spoke of the regulators’ negative contribution to the mental health of dual trained sex workers. The Association of Somatic and Integrative Sexologist (ASIS) then introduced its own ethical code. The ASIS code not only seemed a better fit with the breadth of Sex Works, yet also offered a far less quasi-judicial and fairer (transparent) process for professionals receiving complaints.


The PCU was invited to attend the end of conference panel discussion alongside reps from the College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists (COSRT), BACP and UKCP to explore ‘Moving forward – Protecting dual-trained therapists’. Unfortunately, the UKCP ethics representative cancelled without offering a replacement. As the PCU rep, it seemed important to emphasise that our position is the inclusion of all who self-identify as therapists – we are not regulators, moral monitors, the social police or agents of the state. The panel was invited to speak about ‘what have you heard this conference’? As your union rep, I heard how sex works through different forms of body therapies, and serves the many different needs of clients that talking therapies are unable to fulfil. Yet I also heard an undercurrent of fear because the dual-trained therapists said they lacked protection. As one dual-trained delegate said, “Who’s got my back?” Where therapists were engaging in sex work and also in more mainstream practices, many spoke of fearing complaints and the shame of being called into meetings or publicly outed. The delegates offered many painful examples.


The delegates were clear that the panel did not ‘get’ the full lived experience of being a dual-trained/trainee sex worker. Only one of the panel had openly declared their sexuality. A delegate commented that in the psychotherapy world there is so much fear that as a profession we seem deceitful – this is exemplified by the topic of this conference, which focussed less on widely accepted talking therapies and more on widely disavowed variations of bodywork. As a striking example, a dual trained bodywork therapist spoke of how she could be struck off for simply referring to a surrogate sex worker; even if that was a considered intervention to meet a client’s needs. Addressing this was the strength of the ASIS complaint procedure and what it offers the wider profession. The weakness was the panel’s lack of connection with the delegates. BACP, UKCP and particularly COSRT were critiqued for a lack loyalty towards all their members. As the panel was tasked to discuss ‘Moving forward’, the union’s position to unequivocally support all therapists, including with complaint procedures was welcomed yet also raised concerns.


These concerns left me wondering about where the PCU’s stands on who we accept as members, where our boundaries sit regarding what counts as therapy and who can access the benefits that membership confers. The conference feedback was that conversion therapy (CT), which religiously sells itself as repairing ‘wrong gender identity choices’ currently presents a dilemma for the PCU. People practising CT, either overtly or covertly, can be PCU members and if a professional complaint is made, access PCU support. This position, which seems completely contradictory to the philosophy underpinning this Pink Therapy conference and seemingly PCU, is now being discussed within the union. Pink Therapy is to be commended for organising a conference that is beyond the cutting edge. The take home message is that therapists who do sex work are often being harmed – by the field of therapy.


Dr Philip Cox (Psych.D. C.Psychol)

PCU executive committee member

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