Professor's links to 'guru' probed

February 2, 2007

Goldsmiths is looking into the relationship between a controversial therapist and an academic, reports Phil Baty.

A leading professor of counselling is being investigated by his university over his connections with a controversial self-styled therapy "guru".

Goldsmiths, University of London, confirmed this week that it was examining a complaint about the relationship between Windy Dryden, professor of psychotherapeutic studies, and an Essex-based therapy centre run by Derek Gale.

Mr Gale's profession is not overseen by an official regulator, but he recently resigned his membership of the voluntary national accrediting organisation for his type of therapy, the UK Association for Humanistic Psychology Practitioners. This followed his suspension pending an investigation into complaints about alleged breaches of its ethical code.

The allegations also led him to resign his membership of the association's umbrella body, the UK Council for Psychotherapy, a voluntary register of practitioners. He explained to clients that he was unhappy with the way he had been treated by the two bodies.

Professor Dryden wrote several books that had been published by Mr Gale's therapy centre, The Gale Centre, and he attended at least one social function at the therapist's home, his birthday in 2005, mixing with Mr Gale's clients.

In early January, the university received a complaint about Professor Dryden's relationship with Mr Gale from Howard Martin, a television producer whose partner - a former client of Mr Gale's - had attended Mr Gale's party with Professor Dryden.

Mr Martin had written to Professor Dryden in November 2005, but he refused to "enter into a correspondence".

Last month, Mr Martin also wrote to Geoffrey Crossick, the warden of Goldsmiths, warning that the relationship could compromise Professor Dryden and could be exploited to help lend credibility to Mr Gale's activities. He says that Goldsmiths itself could be perceived as endorsing Mr Gale's practice.

"I feel that it is very important that you have the opportunity to make clear your institution's position on the potential conflict of interest," he writes.

The college had not replied to the letter as The Times Higher went to press, but a spokeswoman said: "We are taking these allegations seriously and are looking into the matter. It would not be appropriate to comment further at this time."

Professor Dryden declined to answer a series of questions about the extent of his relationship with Mr Gale or to comment on the nature of Mr Gale's practices. In a statement, he says: "My understanding is that lawyers are involved in this situation, therefore it would be inappropriate to comment at this time."

Mr Gale describes himself as a "counsellor, psychologist, voice teacher and drama therapist" who is engaged in "helping people with emotional, practical and life problems".

His website says that he is "both challenging and supportive and encourages (clients) to break through the limitations of the personality and find new ways of being".

His profile on Match.com, an online dating service, describes him as "a sort of guru in the world of psychotherapy". He has been known to holiday with clients, and clients helped him refurbish his centre in 2004.

In an essay on his website, Mr Gale argues that traditional "boundaries" in psychotherapy are too restrictive, and he goes on to cite a book by Professor Dryden (he also claims to own the rights to the book). It is "impossible" for therapists to be neutral, continues Mr Gale.

The essay goes on to criticise rules requiring therapists to refrain from physical contact - he often hugs his clients, Mr Gale states. It also disparages rules that say therapists should be "anonymous". "Anonymous I ain't," he writes.

Mr Gale says "the role of the therapist is to act the good parent that the client never had". This is contrary to the traditional notion that therapists should not seek to act as parental figures.

Most controversially, the essay offers support for another therapist who admitted to once removing his clothes to conduct a therapy session with a female client who was also naked.

Mr Gale - while making it clear that the other therapist had since stressed that it was a "unique case of exceptional challenge" that had happened before a clear code of ethics had been established - said that the therapist had shown "courage".

"I assume he would not again do what he did then, but not because he thought it was wrong, but because the rule makers are in the ascendancy," Mr Gale writes.

"His experience clearly shows the obsession with boundaries, rules and professionalisation does deprive the client of something, because we all have to operate at the speed of the slowest. This kills innovation and provides no space for genius," he adds.

Mr Gale told The Times Higher that that the complaints about his practices were incorrect and stemmed from an "inexplicable vendetta" against him.

He said that his "professional relationships are obviously matters of the utmost confidence and you cannot even hope, let alone expect, that I would discuss such confidential information with you or any other person".

phil.baty@thes.co.uk

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