Patrick Strudwick's story of gay-to-straight therapy (1 February) does an enormous injustice to British psychotherapy and to the thousands of people who wish to embark on a different avenue in life.
When any man comes out as gay, there is rejoicing. Yet when a gay man moves into heterosexuality, as I have, there is vilification. Having experienced the professional care of the two therapists Patrick mentions, I am now living a fulfilled married and family life, a million miles from the serial infidelity, widespread addictions, and narcissistic attitudes that I was surrounded by when living as an "out" gay man.
The journey he chose to undertake as an undercover journalist could not have been more different from the one that I and many other men have undertaken to leave behind homosexuality and find our true heterosexual identities. This is a painful, challenging and exciting quest that requires total subjective focus; one which cannot be approached from a journalistic standpoint.
The NHS, founded to serve all without discrimination, should assist those of us who are serious and committed to embarking upon treatment.
No responsible psychotherapist will attempt to "convert" a client from homosexuality to heterosexuality. It is clinically and ethically misguided. Any member of the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy who tried to do so would have to face the music.
But the idea that there is a particular kind of personal background to male homosexuality – "possessive mother, distant father" – is so deeply ingrained in the wider culture (and maybe still in some quarters of the therapy world) that a strong rebuttal is needed. Homosexuality does not have "causes". Every time a "cause" is discovered – "gay brain", "gay gene" and so on – the project collapses. Most of my straight clients had possessive mothers and absent fathers – it's the default position in our society, I am sorry to say.
Psychotherapists, educators and the media need to stop the search for "causes". We don't on the whole look for causes of things that are OK – and hence we continue inadvertently to pathologise what we now know is not pathological.
Professor Andrew Samuels
Chair, United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy, London N19
I was dismayed by the use of the word "admit" in the phrase "admit he is gay" in your article on gay rugby star Gareth Thomas (29 January). We "admit" we are in the wrong or have made a mistake.
The English language offers myriad alternatives: you can come out as gay, self-identify as gay, state, disclose, announce, reveal that you are gay; you can let it be known that you are gay, or simply tell people. I as a gay man am not a criminal and neither is Gareth Thomas.
Sanctions against Israel will not help
Lord Phillips is right to demand attention for the awful plight of Gaza's 1.5 million inhabitants (Opinion, 1 February), but his analysis misses some key points.
Egypt has closed its own border with Gaza because it does not want its own security threatened by the Hamas regime which controls the Strip. Neither do other moderate Arab nations such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
The Palestinian Authority chaired by Mahmoud Abbas fears what would happen if Hamas – which demands the total destruction of Israel – is allowed to reinforce its weapons arsenal and dig in further. It could be the death-knell for the Palestinian Authority's declared goal of two states.
Gaza shows the shocking reality of the very limited capability and will of the international community, including its inability to stop arms smuggling. It was the tangible and demonstrated danger to Israel's own people – not Lord Phillips's odd suggestion that Israelis suffer "genetic insecurity" – which led to last year's bloodshed. It was eight years of rocket attacks on Israel's civilian communities, an onslaught to which any country would have had to respond.
Amnesty recently found Hamas had engaged in a "deadly campaign of abductions, killings, torture and death threats against those they accuse of 'collaborating with' Israel".
That Gaza is suffering is not in dispute, and Israel is not blameless – indeed, it is taking action against two military officers for misconduct in the recent conflict. But there will be no solution without real talks which deal with harsh realities; and the international community has to get the parties to the table. Economic sanctions against Israel, which Andrew Phillips recommends, will do nothing to bring either the Israelis or Hamas to a recognition of what they need to do. They are likely to have precisely the opposite effect.
Sir Alan Beith MP
House of Commons
The fact that Israel feels under siege (report, 2 February) is a paradox. Israel has the strongest economy in the region. Because of the US's threat of veto in the Security Council, it faces no sanctions from the world community. It is the strongest military power in the region, with the IDF's technical advantage being upgraded every year an by annual grant of $3bn in military aid from the US. It possesses unknown numbers of atomic warheads, with effective delivery systems that could hit any nation in the Middle East that might attack.
Israel's problems are mainly caused by its economic policy towards the Gaza strip and the West Bank. This policy, while maintaining the highest standard of living in the Middle East in Israel and the settlements, has impoverished the Palestinians. Israel has a GDP of $28,600 per capita, the West Bank and Gaza $2,900. As long this economic injustice exists the Middle East will be a tinder box.
It is the settlements that have caused the difference in per capita GDP. There is no hope for Middle East peace as long as the West Bank is dominated by the settlers and the IDF, and the Gaza strip is under blockade. In the long term the Palestinian people will continue to live in fear and poverty while the people of Israel and the settlements, in spite of all their advantages over their neighbours, will continue to live in a state of siege.
George D Lewis
Anyone who describes the Middle East conflict as a clear-cut struggle between good and evil is guilty of conspiring to perpetuate the violence. They have blood on their hands. Reality does not reflect that fantasy and the fantasies feed real emotions and real outcomes.
Yes, it's wrong of Israel to deny the right of return, but it's also wrong of the Arab nations to keep Palestinians in miserable refugee camps on the Israeli border. Yes, suicide bombers do kill Israelis, but economic sanctions and intimidation by armed settlers cause suffering to Arab families and perpetuate the problem. Neither group is right to continue on its current path. You have to feel sorry for the innumerable innocents on both sides.
Nothing lasts for ever, so what will the solution look like? My money is on grass-roots action by people with wisdom and a balanced perspective (two things that are often lacking when the topic hits your letters page).
Degree is reason to be cheerful
As a recent graduate, Laura Wild can be forgiven for being unfamiliar with recessions (letter, 30 January). However, she should believe in the economy's tentative recovery, despite many graduates being unemployed or in casual work.
This situation is nothing new. As a victim of the Tories' second (third?) recession in the early Nineties, it took me more than three years to find appropriate employment after graduation. And it doesn't take a genius to understand the impact of the increasing intake of higher education on this kind of downturn.
University is certainly no longer a guaranteed way to "an affluent and bright future". But in the longer term Ms Wild's education is likely to prove financially advantageous. In the shorter term, perhaps she should note that many thousands of older graduates are in the same situation as her. And it is not just graduates. People are suffering across the board. Recent graduates should remember that time is on their side, and they really do have better prospects than most.
Hull, East Yorkshire
Mythic golden age of basic schooling
I have to disagree with Andrew Whyte's assertion (letter, 3 February) that despite 40-plus class sizes in the 1950s we all left primary school able to read, write and do basic maths. Memories of being a pupil in the 1950s, and experience as a practitioner in adult literacy in the Noughties, have shown me that many teachers managed these impossibly large classes by failing to meet the needs of slower learners.
Fifty years later I can remember the "control" through fear and corporal punishment, and the particular incident where a seven-year-old boy with learning disabilities was made to stand out in front of the class, diarrhoea dribbling from his shorts, for us all to snigger at.
I have more recently witnessed many adult learners make excellent progress in a relaxed environment, in small groups of four to eight. We learn better when we have some control over the process, for example, over the pace of learning, so that we can overcome the fear of being left behind, and of being "shown up", and can relax and focus on the learning.
There are children and adults who will never learn to read and write without some one-to-one or small-group intervention. Unless we address this in primary school, we will still be funding adult literacy learning in 2050.
Ah, those were the golden days when everyone left primary school classes of over 40 pupils "able to read, write and do basic maths". There's nothing like generalising from one's own memories.
The development of these skills could have had more to do with children running around outside when not in school rather than sitting hunched over TVs and computers, and parents exercising more influence over behaviour, than with teachers in those days being more proficient at controlling a class. I do suspect that those who claim it is just as easy to teach a large class as a small one have never stood in front of any sized class.
As a primary school pupil of the 1940s, I think Andrew Whyte misses an important distinction.
My generation was brought up in an environment of family cohesion, respect for authority, self-discipline (austerity-assisted) and fewer distractions. Our world was far more conducive to good learning than the lax, atomised free-for-all that Thatcher and Blair (among others) have made of our society.
Colin V Smith
St Helens, Merseyside
Given that 4,415 pupils cheated in last summer's exams (report, 4 February) and the most common form of cheating is bringing in an electronic gadget, is it not time for full body scans for candidates?
West Bromwich, West Midlands
Don't call us
I've just had an account update from BT that call costs will shortly be increasing by some 10 per cent, but also, presumably to increase their profits, the free evening period will begin at 7pm instead of 6pm. How can such a financially successful company such as BT justify such price increases and illogical changes to call rate bands ?
It is no surprise that there is a link between internet use and depression (report, 3 February). The internet is awash with conspiracy theories and negativity. You only have to read comments on the Independent website against any article about climate change, immigration, the EU etc. A high proportion are vituperative in tone. Elsewhere it is even worse. Whether surfing this tidal wave of negativity makes people depressed, or there is something about having the opportunity to broadcast your gripes anonymously worldwide that particularly attracts depressives, is not clear. But it depresses me.
Fill those holes
Could some of our two million unemployed possibly be paid for the productive work of filling in our 1.6 million holes in the road (report, 4 February)? This would be a genuine solution to two problems. I know there are challenges of training, equipment and materials, but could someone be creative and actually make it happen? And not just as an election promise; it must have happened by May.
Bolton, Greater Manchester
At last the need for a written constitution has moved a bit nearer to front-line news. Can someone sponsor a national competition to write one?
Clevedon, North Somerset