Updated: Sep 13, 2021
Renowned anti-trans psychotherapist Robert Withers, senior partner of the Rock Clinic in Brighton, has been found guilty of three counts of misconduct and narrowly avoided being struck off, we can reveal. The UKCP found him guilty of breaching professional standards by: 1. Failing to respect, protect and preserve the confidentiality of Client A, thereby breaching Code 3.1;
2. Failing to safeguard the welfare and anonymity of Client A when any form of publication of clinical material is being considered and to always obtain their verifiable consent in any case where the welfare or anonymity of a client may be compromised. This included situations where a client or former client may recognise themselves in case material despite the changing of names or actual circumstances, thereby breaching Code 3.4;
And 3. Failing to clarify with Client A the nature, purpose and conditions of any research in which the clients are to be involved and to ensure that informed verifiable consent is given before the commencement of the therapy and research, thereby breaching Code 7.3.
For the reasons set out above your practise is impaired by reason of misconduct.
The hearing, held in February, was concluded in April, and only Mr. Withers previous clean record prevented anything worse than sanctions being imposed. Despite his client making a personal plea not to publish any more anti-trans pieces based on the sessions she had with the psychotherapist, Mr. Withers refused, and instead tried to silence Client A by threatening more publication if she did not desist in speaking out against his attacks on her and her family.
The registrant, Robert Withers, was described as "very evasive and ambiguous" when called to give evidence, while client A was described as credible, reliable, and nuanced. We spoke with client A about her ordeal. How did you end up seeing Robert Withers? What were the circumstances? "I actually saw him years ago, back in 2012. I was needing to transition and wanted to see a therapist to both help me through the process and to support my family. I knew that transition would affect them, and I was really worried about them."
How did those sessions go? Obviously you had no idea about his anti-trans activities then? "No, I had no idea. The session started normally and we went through all the usual housekeeping - confidentiality and so on. I had no idea how it would go from there, I assumed, wrongly, that he would be on my side, and that of my family" "I got a sense of danger quite early on, I mean, let's clarify here, we only had a few sessions, so I was evaluating him as a person as well as what was going on for me. I've had psychotherapy before, so I wasn't new to it. I think the thing that struck me was the scorn in his voice when he said "so, you want to become a woman", as if women were somehow inferior. Every answer I gave, he poured scorn onto it. It was quite frightening"
"He told me about another client he saw who regretted transition. I wasn't very informed about regretters at the time, but I took it as testing to see how sure I was about things, but nonetheless, it was quite difficult because I was really needing to transition, and things like HRT and GRS were a very long way off. It was like he was taunting me." That must have been difficult. I hear that you were evaluating things as you went along. What judgments did you make, and how did you end the therapy? "I found the ordeal really upsetting. I mean to spend your life wanting to transition and then have someone pour scorn over who you are is really destabilising. After the sessions, I ended up calling my dad and talking it over with him. It was funny, I hadn't told him that I was trans so I had to pile two things on him at once! He really gave me the strength to stand up to him. He wasn't dismissive over me being trans, he just gently supported me, and said something about an existential crisis, which I didn't really understand. I think, though, that turning to him when I was in an emotional crisis told me a lot about myself and what mattered to me!"
I realised that it wasn't therapy that I was having, it was abuse
"I ended the therapy by text. I realised that it wasn't therapy that I was having, it was abuse. And it took a few texts to get rid of him! Such is the way with abusive people!"
Robert Withers is quite active on the anti trans front as we can see by his collection of public appearances on television, and what he has written. From those few hours of "therapy" he seems to have made a meal of your sessions. I'd like to hear what you have to say about each one. How did you find out what he'd been writing about you?
"Well, to be honest, I didn't remember his name after I stopped seeing him. I moved on and found a lovely therapist who was very gentle with me after my ordeal with her. When I saw her, I was deeply traumatised by Robert Withers. I found him on you tube, talking with a group of anti-trans activists, including Miranda Yardley" "All of a sudden he started making up some rubbish about why he thought I had a dissociative episode. What he didn't mention, and never has... it was because he was being so dominant over me, and during the session, he did the whole spreading his legs business. I'm a survivor of sexual violence, and the combination of his body language and what he was doing triggered me." "It was actually nothing to do with the context of the verbal messages. I've learned he's very good at confabulation - picking out bits and pieces of truth and making up a whole different narrative of what actually happened."
No wonder it was so traumatising for you. I'm sorry to hear you had that experience with him. How did you find out about the other publications? "Well, after reeling from watching him put his spin on our confidential therapy on youtube, I knew he couldn't be trusted. I simply put his name into a google search... and it wasn't pleasant what I found. I think he's a bit of a narcissist to be honest. He puts himself out as this really clever psychotherapist who has had so much experience with trans people, but in actual fact, he's only ever seen two trans people in his entire career. Me, a ts woman, and a client of his, Chris, who thought he was trans and then discovered he wasn't." You're referring to "The Seventh Penis"?
"Eugh. I know, such a disgusting title to his award-winning confabulation. Honestly, if people knew the facts of that piece it would bring the whole profession of psychotherapy into disrepute"
Can you tell me a little more about your impressions about this piece, published in the Journal of Analytical Psychotherapy? "Well to start with, the title is garbage. The guy spent two 50 minute sessions with me and didn't explore being ts with me at all. He actually never asked me if I wanted hormones or surgery, he just assumed. He's not a registered psychiatrist and is not in a position to diagnose me as a transsexual. He didn't follow me up at all, so, even three years later, he was in no position to say that I was TS or not."
"It says in the article that it's about working out who would benefit from hormones and surgery, but he's in no position to make such claims. He's only ever come across one ts person, and that was me. The other person clearly wasn't!" "The quote about the tray of penises is clearly a man's perspective of TS women. He can't see past penises and how awful it must be not to have one! I found it both disrespectful and myopic. He clearly can't see past the physical. He can't understand what it's like as a TS woman having to live with that appendage. It's really difficult. He pretended that he would support me in therapy, but I saw no evidence of that, and reading and watching what he has published since gives me no evidence of that. You don't see him writing about how he's supported trans people, only him fighting against the rights of trans people to access medical treatments."
"He carries on with his disrespect of ts women, and me, by calling me John in his article. What an asshole. I mean, even if he found out that I did eventually transition, calling me John is abusive."
"He says he was wanting to not expose me to abuse, but he pursued and abused me nonetheless. Any therapist worth their salt would be very aware of their body language, not only that, trauma therapists don't launch headlong into opening up experiences of abuse without first concentrating on safety and stabilisation. I'm seeing a lovely therapist - who I've seen for 5 months, and we haven't ever been so direct like this - she's really helping me cope with the effects of abuse: safety, stabilisation, so I can function normally in life. What he did with me in that session was reckless and harmful."
"It was clear, by then, in therapy, that he wasn't someone to be trusted. His only goal in that session was to try and talk me out of transitioning, he clearly didn't believe that trans people exist. He suggests in the article, that I'd talked with someone - that person was my Dad. He gave me faith in myself. I was also really upset that this therapist had been so careless with me."
"In the article, Robert suggests that I'm TS because of abandonment by my mum, and identification of men as violent and abusive. This is a complete confabulation. If he'd bothered exploring my relationship with my dad in a safe and non-threatening way, he would have discovered that I have a balanced view of my parenting. No parent is perfect. My Dad practically raised me, took me to school, loved, and supported me - he has high moral values and to this day is caring for his wife suffering from dementia. I don't see all men as violent and abusive. Yes he had a problem with anger, and it was scary for a child, but I'd already had therapy around this and resolved my issues with him. I find men who love their kids as really endearing, and this was an aspect about him I respected. I love my Dad, and to hear him being blamed for my being TS... or living in some fantasy state as Robert puts it, is offensive" "My mum never abandoned me in childhood. I was 17 by the time she left to live with my step-mum. The only abandonment I felt from either of my parents was the fact that they didn't see me as their little girl. That's not the case now, and I have a very close relationship with my mum, and my step-mum, and my Dad. My family is very important to me and the real truth of the matter, and what is very telling, I think, is that we are all even closer since I transitioned. I'm going on holiday with my mum soon - that's hardly abandonment!"
There are some analyses and psychobabble at the end of the article, arguing that trans people are psychotic and that supporting trans people is merely going along with psychosis, what are your feelings about this?
"Cis people who are supremacists see themselves as normal, whereas everyone else is seen as abnormal - a pathology, psychopathology. It doesn't surprise me at all that he carries on down this path - a path that pathologised gay people last century. It's evidence that Rob Withers lied about his intent with me - he had no reason to support me, or my family, with transition. He only succeeded in adding another layer of trauma. He should be ashamed of his bumbling incompetence".
Let's move on to his article in the right-wing publication Spiked! The headline reads "We are experimenting on children" and "Psychotherapist Bob Withers on the dangers of trans ideology". It instantly occurs to us, the use of the term "trans ideology" which is the catchphrase of anti-trans campaigns of this age. What are your feelings about this?
"Clearly he hasn't seen any more trans clients, as he's still using the same two people on which to form his arguments - and I'm glad. He's a menace to trans people, including trans children."
He says this in the article:
"He wanted me to rubber-stamp his transition. He thought I was transphobic to even ask him about his psychological issues."
he's so hell-bent on his own toxic ideology, which is based on nothing but his own feelings and conjecture
"He's still misgendering me. This is complete confabulation, as I said earlier, I needed support for my family. I wanted support around the issues of being forcibly raised as a boy, even though I identified as a girl. He didn't get to hear any of this, because he's so hell-bent on his own toxic ideology, which is based on nothing but his own feelings and conjecture"
"Again he had absolutely no idea that he himself had triggered C-PTSD by his own careless actions in a position of power and responsibility. And he's wrong, I never thought that people were going to kill me, it's that I was suicidal after being forced to recall trauma from my childhood, with no attempt to offer me stability. He shouldn't be anywhere near anyone who has suffered psychological trauma, triggering them, and then letting them leave his session triggered and dissociated. To then come our with it as some kind of proof of his made-up anti-trans theories is beyond disgusting."
He says later that you argued with your father and you felt that your mum rejected you. Is there any truth in this?
"My father and I rarely argued, I rarely stood up to him. He's simply making stuff up. He doesn't know me, and it's telling. He's lying. And I was really pleased for my mum that she found someone special. What Bob Withers fails to appreciate and know at this stage is that I'm also lesbian - I could identify with my mum's issues!."
"The more he goes down a rabbit hole, the more his story unravels - he really does just make things up."
That's interesting. It says in the article that he's fearful of being accused of conversion therapy. Is this how you felt about what happened to you?
"Absolutely, yes. The more I read up about what conversion therapy is, the more I realised that I'd inadvertently had conversion therapy. Luckily for me, I was a lot stronger than he realised. He didn't think I'd make him accountable for his actions, accountable for breaching my privacy, for bringing disgrace to his Rock Clinic psychotherapy practice in Brighton. So when Rob says, 'on the basis of first do no harm' - he isn't aware of the irony of his statement."
The full ruling from the UKCP can be found here:
Kate Nambiar, another trans woman who experienced conversion therapy discusses her experiences of conversion therapy here.