Episode 29

29 - Conversion Therapy: A Conversation with Bob Withers

Published on: 25th June, 2021

Jungian Analyst Bob Withers joins us to discuss the differences between gay conversion therapy and gender identity conversion therapy.  We examine the possibility of misinformed therapists “transing the gay away” and suggest that perhaps the dark history of conversion therapy may not be over. Bob delves into his view of psychosomatic symptoms and draws on his background in philosophy and medical history to understand our current fixation with one’s subjective sense of identity. Bob also defines what he calls “detrans-phobic” responses to the experiences of detransitioners.


Winnicott: http://web-facstaff.sas.upenn.edu/~cavitch/pdf-library/Winnicott_PsycheSoma.pdf 

Dr Az Hakeem: 



Vsauce Video: The Power of Suggestion: 



Safeguard evidence-based therapy for children struggling with gender dysphoria:  


Transgender Medicalization and the attempt to evade psych distress: 


The Seventh Penis: towards effective psychoanalytic work with pre-surgical transexuals  


Cambridge Books:  

Transgender Children and Young People: Born in Your Own Body:  


Inventing Transgender Children:  


One Size Does Not Fit All: In Support of Psychotherapy for Gender Dysphoria 


Extended Notes

  • A little bit about Bob and his work. 
  • Bob met a biological man, now a woman, who wanted to detransition. He realized that becoming a woman did not solve his psychological problems. This was in 1990. 
  • Bob’s work would later spark a new set of clients and now Bob sees parents and gender dysphoria teens. 
  • How were the narrates about gender different back then? 
  • Bob’s first detransition client was attacked and vilivided by the community. He tried to write books about it, but the only way to get the bullying to stop was to say he made up the whole thing. 
  • This was the first time Bob saw de-trans phorbia. 
  • We know the mind through introspection, but we actually know the body through a different way; measurement and observation. 
  • If we change someone’s mind, is that considered conversion therapy? What about their body? 
  • What is conversion therapy? And what does it mean in this context? 
  • No therapist would actively support conversion therapy. 
  • Now we’re faced with a new problem: gender conversion therapy. 
  • Therapists are faced with a hard problem. Should they talk their patient through their gender dysphoria/their hatred of their body? Or is that considered gender conversion therapy? Where is the line?
  • Those who identify as trans also might be dealing with same-sex attraction. Converting to the opposite sex might feel more culturally acceptable and they can now safely be in a hetrosexual relationship. 
  • In the trans world, changing your mind is seen as an untouchable space. However, we change our minds all the time! 
  • There have been so many cases where people, now in their early 20s, regret transitioning all together as a young child. 
  • What distressed 16 year old really knows what’s best for them? Trans children, now young adults, say they should have been questioned and challenged.
  • Can you be ex-gay? 
  • There are so many complications between transitioning and de-transitioning. 
  • Most people talk about the importance of being your true self, but very few people actually realize the vast medical implications. 
  • In Bob’s experience, what makes someone better is their psychology with themselves. 
  • We are so willing to turn our bodies over to science to be experimented on. “Oh, just cut this body part off.” “Oh, just take this hormone.” We need to take this stuff much more seriously because things go wrong all the time. 
  • Interested to know more? Feel free to connect with Bob! 

This podcast is partially sponsored by ReIME, Rethink Identity Medicine Ethics:


Learn more about our show: Linktr.ee/WiderLensPod

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About the Podcast

Gender: A Wider Lens Podcast
Two therapists explore the expanding concept of "gender" from a psychological depth perspective.
Gender dysphoria has become a minefield for public discussion, with many afraid to express their views or question the narrative. Our mission is to examine this important and complex topic from a range of perspectives, but always through a psychological lens. By openly considering and examining gender identity, transition, and the transgender umbrella, we hope to give all interested parties permission to engage these fascinating topics with less fear and more honesty. Interviews and discussions will involve clinicians, medical professionals, academics, transgender people, parents, detransitioners and other interesting individuals whose lives have been touched by the concept of gender.

Conversations between two practicing therapists give listeners an opportunity to contemplate gender from a depth perspective not currently taken up in most of today’s accessible debates. As a result of their work with gender dysphoric therapy clients as well as their personal divergent experiences with gender, Stella and Sasha hold a refreshing and informed perspective.

Is gender identity a facilitation of development and expression of creativity, or can it be a defense against painful existential realities of living in a human body? What can we discover about masculinity, femininity, identity, gender performance, and sexuality when we peer beneath the surface and dive into a deeper psychological exploration? What is the relationship between body, mind, identity, culture, and psyche?

This podcast engages listeners in an intimate and fascinating behind-the-scenes inquiry about a topic as taboo as it is salient today.

Thank you to our sponsors:
Genspect - an international organization which offers an alternative to WPATH. Providing a range of education, resources and supports to anyone impacted by gender distress, Genspect unites many different organizations globally, and gives voice to 1,000s of previously untold stories. For more info, visit genspect.org.

GETA - an association of therapists who believe that individuals experiencing gender related concerns ought to be treated using a whole person approach. GETA connects like minded clinicians, provides educational resources and trainings, and helps people with gender dysphoria find support. For more info, visit genderexploratory.com.
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About your hosts

Stella O'Malley

Profile picture for Stella O'Malley
Stella O’Malley is a psychotherapist and author who works in private practice in Ireland. Her work focuses on parenting, family dynamics and working with teenagers.

Much of Stella’s counselling and writing focuses on mental health and the importance of well-being and she is a regular contributor to the media. She is also the resident psychotherapist for the current TV series, Raised by the Village, a family programme that helps troubled teenagers reconnect with themselves and their families.

Stella's first book, Cotton Wool Kids, was released in 2015 while Bully-Proof Kids: Practical tools to help kids grow up confident, resilient and strong was released in 2017. Stella’s latest book Fragile, was released in 2019 and focuses on overcoming anxiety and stress.

Stella was the presenter of the documentary Trans - Kids: It’s Time To Talk broadcast on Channel 4 in November 2018 and she contributed a chapter to the 2019 book, Inventing Transgender Children and Young People.

The Jungian analyst, Lisa Marchiano, and Stella launched Secrets of the Motherworld in September 2019, offering thoughtful exploration of the most intimate aspects of motherhood in a bid to help mothers feel less alone.

Stella is a Clinical Advisor for the Society for Evidence-based Gender Medicine and a founding member of the International Association of Therapists for Desisters and Detransitioners. She is also the lead facilitator for the Gender Dysphoria Support Network.

Stella holds a B.A. in Counselling and Psychotherapy and a M.A. in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

Sasha Ayad

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Sasha Ayad is a Licensed Professional Counselor who works in private practice, and has treated adolescents for over 10 years. Her work focuses on teens and young adults struggling with issues of gender dysphoria and gender identity.

She became interested in the sharp rise in teenagers who declare a trans identity for the first time during adolescence. She discovered, through working with hundreds of families, that many teens were developing gender dysphoria only after adopting a transgender identity. She questions the practice of medical transition for children and teenagers, and her clinical work focuses on developmentally appropriate, least-invasive-first talk therapy.

Sasha is also a founding member and Clinical Advisor in the Society for Evidence-based Gender Medicine and a founding member of the International Association of Therapists for Desisters and Detransitioners.

Sasha’s previous work experience includes:
- School counselor for middle and high school students at a charter school for underserved communities

- Behavioral therapy with children on the autism spectrum

- Individual and group counseling for women and children impacted by domestic abuse and sexual violence

- Developed and ran the first counseling program at a large state supported living facility for adults with intellectual disability

Sasha holds a B.S. in Psychology and an M.Ed. in Counseling Psychology.