A letter from the future to counselors and psychotherapists followed by a heartfelt connection from IFT

This is a letter that we received from Gail Simon, Gwyn Whitfield, Elizabeth Day and Amanda Middleton. We share it here in its entirety, as well as our response.

In posting this we are inviting you to connect and join in this conversation, in whatever ways you wish.

 

Dear Counsellors and Psychotherapists,

This is a letter from us in 2026 to ourselves in 2024. Let’s jump back and see how we got to where we are now in our work with trans and non-binary people.

2023 was an important year. As psychotherapists and counsellors of the UKCP and BACP, we anticipated being on the right side of history. We looked back. We looked forward. We felt perplexed and sometimes paralysed by contested ideas posed by senior figures speaking from outside of the trans community but within our professional bodies and governments. We realised we needed to learn from our successes and mistakes as a profession.

It was as late as 1974 that “homosexuality” was taken out of the international mental health diagnostic manuals (DSM and ICD) following a long campaign by mental health practitioners across all disciplines to depathologise lesbian, gay and bisexual people. In 1991, after lengthy pressure from therapists of all sexual orientations, lesbian, gay and bisexual people were allowed to train as psychoanalytic therapists training in the US. It was even later in the UK. In 2013, “distress caused by homosexual orientation” was removed from the diagnostic manuals as a mental health condition.

For many decades, psychotherapeutic theory that pathologised lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people was extensively critiqued as a colonial construction which relied on the practices of “othering, demeaning and dehumanising. These pathologising ideas from within our own professional community fuelled social prejudice and ruined many lives. Theories “about” gay, bisexual, lesbian and transgender people were wri6en by non-gay, bisexual, lesbian and transgender people who believed “cure” of “homosexuality” and gender diversity through psychotherapy was not only possible but desirable.

In 2009, the UKCP, BPS and BACP issued statements that gay and trans conversion therapy (reparative therapy) was an unethical practice: “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.” (h6ps://www.psychotherapy.org.uk/media/ysznvjr2/ukcp- statement-on-reparative-therapies.pdf Dated Feb 2010. Accessed 20/11/23).

In 2017, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed by over 25 health, counselling and psychotherapy organisations aiming to end the practice of conversion therapy in the UK. Memorandum of understanding on conversion therapy in the UK (bacp.co.uk)

In 2019, the American Psychiatric Association formally apologised to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people: “Regre6ably some of that era’s understanding of homosexuality and gender identity can be a6ributed to the American psychoanalytic establishment. It is long past time to recognize and apologize for our role in the discrimination and trauma caused by our profession.” (Lee Jaffe, president of APsaA, 2019). h6ps://bit.ly/49Fhry2

In 2023, the UKCP issued a new statement about “gender dysphoria” supporting “exploratory” therapy but not conversion therapy. The statement negated the possibility of affirmative therapy or therapy that is informed by trans experience: “There are multiple factors that can contribute to people questioning their gender. These can include the person’s psychological make-up, genetics, current emotional wellbeing, societal and cultural influences, biological factors, neurodiversity, sexuality, family dynamics, and many more. Gender is usually only one of the presenting issues in the broader totality of the client’s situation.” (Buckland, 2023) h6ps://bit.ly/3QPRZ8.

The same premise that there may be “multiple factors” to explore when addressing gender identity echoes a trope that underpinned the cruel, undermining thinking across all psychotherapeutic modalities to discourage and delay young gay, lesbian or bisexual people from following their sexual orientation. Their sexual orientation was seen as a fantasy, a symptom, not real. The profession of psychotherapy acts as a gatekeeper, using its power to dictate what it considered “real”, “healthy”, and “normal” for young people’s sexuality and gender. Psychotherapeutic theory is not devoid of responsibility for the serious legal, material and social consequences impacting the wellbeing of members of queer communities.

Now we are in 2026. The UKCP and BACP counsellors and psychotherapists have supported the removal of “gender dysphoria” from the international diagnostic manuals (DSM and ICD). That term is no longer used because gender is seen as a positive choice, not a problem. Trans people are no longer automatically defined as having a mental health condition and do not need a mental health diagnosis to access gender affirming health care. Psychotherapists from across all modalities have listened to trans adults and children and realised that it was us psychotherapists and our theories that needed to change! Having gone through this complex journey, we go on to document it for the next generation of people challenging prejudice so we can show how mental health discourses are often co-opted to discredit the autonomy and wisdom of the people we work with but that we just need to open ourselves and listen with humility to the voices of those communities we serve.

This is what we did:

  • We set up listening groups to hear what trans adults and young people told us that they needed from us and we listened to these life stories.
  • Personally and professionally we met with many trans people from across different ethnicities, religions, age groups, cultures and abilities to hear their diverse experiences.
  • We spent time understanding how we use some theories to colonise people in our a6empts to help them.
  • We created reflexive groups for therapists to work through our bias stemming from medical, biological and psychotherapeutic discourses.
  • We supported each other and our institutions to do the work that trans people needed from us and so we could articulate to others why this work was ethical.
  • We re-wrote many of the theories about gender but guided by trans
  • We re-created learning opportunities with trans writers, trainers and trainees in our training
  • We took ownership in the present moment of history by challenging the dominance of gender normative theory.
  • We positioned ourselves as trans
  • We pivoted in our allegiance from historic “aboutness” thinking into a humility of learning alongside trans people in therapy.
  • We explored our prejudices about gender in ourselves and our
  • We worked with institutions and communities to ensure the range of transgender people was well represented and influential within our professional policies and service
  • We apologised to transgender people – in a number of ways – some personally, some through a professional statement.
  • We apologised to ourselves for having taken the wrong path while trying to become clear about the right thing to do.

And the other thing we did was to write this le6er to ourselves, to show respect for the honesty and drive that it took back in 2024 to make the change and to be the change that trans people needed to be safely, happily themselves.

With trust,

The Psychotherapists and Counsellors of 2026

 

IFT’s Heart-felt Connection to the Letter to the Future

drafted by Gail Simon, Gwyn Whitfield, Elizabeth Day and Amanda Middleton

We were moved and excited by what was outlined in your letter to your future selves. We are strongly aligned with what you have presented in this letter, not just in terms of highlighting oppressive practice, but also in describing what an alternative, more humanising, inclusive, empowering position and way of being would be.

Words impact us and make things happen. Thank you for putting these particular words out into the world; for their sensitivity, clarity and passionate conviction. We were deeply challenged to think beyond placing oppression out there into spaces we can take a righteous position in relation to. We were challenged to reflect on the intimate spaces oppression lives and breeds within us, within our systems and within our institutions. Systemic psychotherapy is no exception.

We were challenged and inspired in equal measure, because we believe deeply and wholeheartedly that including every human being within our definitions and descriptions of humanity can only serve to liberate us all.

Your letter called out Transphobia, and encouraged us to see a future where systemic psychotherapists not only challenged it, but actively affirmed transgender people.

Your letter also focused on the systemic profession and dominant society, as the problem, and gave voice to experiences that are so often not named, not seen and not validated; experiences which are silenced, marginalised and minoritised.

We connected strongly to the idea of looking back at ourselves from a future we want to move towards. While portrayals of our visions of the future tend to be bleak and frightening, perhaps reflecting our anxieties about our current societal problems, your letter gently transported us into a near future that boldly holds us to account.

Rather than floating aimlessly towards an uncertain future we have no control over, your letter challenged us to acknowledge the ways we can act differently now into a more humanising and inclusive future.

Rather than serving as a cautionary tale about what we do not want to become and do not want to happen, the future can represent the fruits of the commitments we have now that clearly outline how we create into the future we want and need.

At IFT, we want to act now to:

  • Challenge the ways we continue to leave people out of our definitions of what it means to be human
  • Invite transgender people in our personal and professional lives to continue to challenge us and hold us to account
  • Reflect on all the ways we are still not living up to our own ethical commitments to anti-oppressive practice
  • Celebrate the beauty of the diverse ways we show up as human beings and the right of all people to be themselves
  • Continue to develop humanising ways of being with each other in the context of a dehumanising transphobic culture
  • Circumvent the invitation to get drawn into academic debates about concepts that are experience far, and moves us further and further away from lived experience

It is important to say that this letter in response to your letter to yourselves, is not about IFT having the answers, knowing better or being beyond reproach. We have so much to do and so much to learn. We are in no way immune from the very issues we are highlighting and challenging. So we need to do better. And we believe we can only do that by listening to transgender people and their allies.

Yours warmly

Taiwo Afuape, Sumita Dutta and Karen Partridge

Other News

IFT Members Publications

Gross, V. & Goldin, J. (2008) Dynamics and Dilemmas in Working with Families in Inpatient CAMHS. Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry Hildebrand, J. & Markovic,

Read More »

IFT connections ‘down under’

We are pleased to announce that IFT has formed a ‘twinning’ relationship with The Bouverie Centre, Melbourne. The Bouverie Centre is the leading family therapy

Read More »

Agency Based Training at IFT

Agency based training has become a significant pathway for the Institute to share systemic ideas and practices with Social Care and Health professionals. Since the

Read More »