A Christian psychotherapist lost her appeal last week against a ruling by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy that her behaviour in offering to therapeutically change a patient’s sexuality was negligent.

A decision given last week confirmed that Lesley Pilkington had been described by the BACP as “negligent”, “dogmatic” and “unprofessional” in her behaviour after she was approached by undercover journalist Patrick Strudwick.

In 2009, Mr Strudwick had pretended to be a gay Christian struggling with his orientation who wanted to become straight and received two counselling sessions from Ms Pilkington. Ms Pilkington was found guilty of professional malpractice in 2011 and filed an appeal against the decision, which was rejected last week.

Although it did not address gay conversion therapy directly, the appeals panel said the counsellor’s behaviour amounted to “professional malpractice in that Mrs Pilkington had failed to provide the complainant with adequate professional services that could reasonably be expected of a practitioner exercising reasonable skill and care.”

The BACP appeals panel said it was “of the opinion that, given that the complainant presented with depression and unhappiness, it is incumbent upon a practitioner to explore why he was depressed/unhappy and not to take at face value his assertion that it is because of an unwanted same sex attraction. Not to do this and to rush in and assume that the complainant’s depression and unhappiness must follow from his unwanted same sex attraction was below the standard expected of a reasonably competent practitioner.”

Stephen Evans, Campaigns Manager at the National Secular Society said Ms Pilkington was “guilty of religiously inspired bigotry parading as psychotherapy.”

He added: “There is no question of her religious freedoms being impeded. The important factor in the delivery of any therapy or counselling is that the professional providing the service adheres to their professional code of conduct. Mrs Pilkington clearly believes her religious beliefs are far more important than any code of conduct, which is why the BACP Governing body found unanimously that she was guilty of professional malpractice.”

Andrea Williams, CEO of Christian Concern and director of the Christian Legal Centre, which supported Mrs Pilkington said a “truly tolerant society would allow for this therapy to continue not to treat it with suspicion and those who practise it with suspicion”.

She said: “Lesley has been penalised because she was targeted as a Christian and because she believes that people are free to choose to change their behaviour if they wish.

“For Patrick to seek to take away her professional accreditation and malign her in this way exposes the more sinister side of the homosexual lobby. It’s incredibly intolerant.”

Lesley Pilkington was backed in her appeal by former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, who helped launch the Coalition for Marriage campaign to oppose equal marriage access for gay and straight couples.

Lord Carey was a signatory to a letter to the BACP which said the ‘gay cure’ therapy “does not produce harm despite the Royal College of Psychiatrists and others maintaining the contrary”.

The letter continued: “Competent practitioners, including those working with biblical Judeo-Christian values, should be free to assist those seeking help.”

The decision to uphold the decision against Ms Pilkington was welcomed by professional bodies. the UK Council for Psychotherapy reminded members that administering therapy with the aim of changing a person’s sexual orientation constituted an ethical offence.

Janet Weisz, Chair of UKCP, said: “UKCP has said all along that reparative (conversion) therapy that seeks to change sexual orientation is profoundly unethical. While we appreciate that clients will seek therapy to explore issues around sexuality, for one of our members to offer or conduct psychotherapy or psychotherapeutic counselling with the express aim of altering ‘sexual orientation’ would be a breach of our ethical code and guidance documents. We are pleased and relieved that, after a long and thorough process, BACP has reached what is undoubtedly the right decision.”

The Revd Canon, Adrian M Rhodes, President of the European Association of Psychotherapy, a UKCP member and former UKCP Vice-Chair, said: “I welcome the decision of the BACP to dismiss the appeal lodged by Lesley Pilkington. Both psychotherapy/counselling and the religious quest, are powerful explorations of what it is to be human, in all its richness and diversity. They have much to offer each other and the interplay between these fields is profoundly enriching and enlightening.

“However, to use either activity as a covert way of achieving the aims of the other is both unworthy and unprofessional. It is as wrong to pursue through psychotherapy, a religious agenda which predetermines homosexuality as wrong, as it would be to use psychotherapy to define religious faith as pathological state to be eradicated.”

Pavan Dhaliwal, the British Humanist Association Head of Public Affairs, said: “Treatments which attempt to “cure” homosexuality are morally objectionable because they carry the implication that homosexuality is a disease. They also lack any foundation in scientific fact, having been condemned by the UK Council for Psychotherapy, the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Psychiatrists, as well as in the recent judgement by the BACP.

“These so-called treatments can also be extremely harmful, especially when they are applied to vulnerable individuals.”

Patrick Strudwick said: “I am delighted that the BACP has upheld their original decision. Mrs Pilkington’s therapeutic practices have been held up to scrutiny and found to be fundamentally flawed.

“The BACP’s decision sends a clear message to counsellors and therapists around the world that attempts to turn gay clients straight are grossly unprofessional. This case sets a vital precedent. I urge anyone involved in this harmful practice to take note of this case and desist. Love needs no cure.

“Every major mental health body in Britain condemns conversion therapy because research has shown it to be ineffective and damaging. I pursued this case for every vulnerable gay person who has been told there’s something wrong with them. It is time for psychotherapy to cast off its shameful past, in which gay people have been subject to torturous psychological and physical ‘treatments’, including aversion therapy and chemical castration. Homosexuality is not an illness; it therefore cannot and should not be treated.

“I call on the government to regulate psychotherapy. It is a scandal that in 2012 anyone can say they are a therapist, without any training or experience, and start charging vulnerable people for their services, with little or no recourse for the patient if they are harmed.”

Ms Pilkington said counsellors who held views like hers were at risk of being shut down. She said: “They simply won’t operate in this area at all, they won’t offer the possibility of change.

“Christians will think twice about using traditional biblical Christian counselling methods. It will definitely close people down, it will definitely engender a climate of fear.”