Protect Trans Kids: Bar Dr Sybrand de Vaal from psychiatric practice
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Investigate Dr Sybrand de Vaal with regards to promoting harmful psychiatric practices with respect to Trans (including non-binary) children. This includes:
* Examine his competency to practice as a registered health professional;
* Restrict his practice in relation to where judgement is required and influences his biases; and
* In particular, affirm that he should not be consulted in relation to gender identity or sexual orientation and offer ‘conversion therapy’.
Dr Sybrand De Vaal participated in a meeting called by the Western Cape Education Department to finalise ‘Guidelines on Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation for Public Schools’ on 16 October 2020. He formed part of a delegation with the NPO, Freedom of Religion South Africa (https://forsa.org.za/ a conservative Christian lobby group.
He was introduced, by Nadine Badenhorst, the legal counsel of ‘Freedom of Religion’ (FOR) a fundamentalist Christian organisation, as an “independent expert” with expertise in “psychiatry and gender”. He was given half of FOR’s allotted time to present his views. Dr De Vaal presented input in a meeting with professionals and interested groups including lawyers, educators, specialist NPOs addressing gender identity and sexual orientation, a range of health professions (psychiatrists, medical doctors, clinical psychologists, nurses and clinical social workers) and concerned parents of gender diverse children.
It is our concern that he is presenting himself and consulting as an independent expert. He is not qualified as a psychiatrist and we were told that he in the meeting that he is currently completing this training at the University of Cape Town. An expert usually has experience in research and has published in peer-reviewed journals or books and he has one publication related to his diploma in Family Medicine in relation to antenatal care. He has not practiced in the gender clinics at Red Cross Hospital or Groote Schuur, the two relevant specialist institutions affiliated with UCT, and as such has no clinical experience in this regard.
These concerns were validated in his presentation to the meeting which were met with disagreement by all the parties represented. His presentation was poorly informed by clinical and research evidence and cited one study. What was of deep concern was his advocating for a framing of a version of reparative therapy or ‘conversion therapy’. While he argued this was not conversion therapy, this is essentially semantics as he was suggesting that gender diversity is a choice and can be addressed therapeutically to cure it. These practices are well known to be harmful to children and have been banned in many parts of the world. The Society of South African Psychiatrists Position statement on Discrimination (Discrimination against Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) Community) of 2016 states: “To this end, we also distance ourselves from so-called “reversal therapy” as it is traumatizing to individuals concerned, is not proven to be effective and further entrenches discrimination.”
He said that Gender Affirmative therapy in the form of hormones for transgender teenagers (which the World Professionals Association of Transgender Health [WPATH] supports in its Best practice guidelines), was not based on scientific evidence but on ideology. The WPATH guidelines are based on evidence-based research and it is disturbing that a doctor, who allows himself to be referred to as an ‘Independent Expert’ can publicly deny this. This can lead to confusion in the public and ultimately lead to Transgender youth not getting the support and services they badly need. Transgender youth are one of the most vulnerable populations, with studies showing 50% of them attempting suicide if not given the appropriate gender-affirming support/treatment.
We would like to register our complaint to the HPCSA and UCT. Our concern is that Dr De Vaal is:
1. Biased and representing a conservative religious grouping ostensibly as an independent expert;
2. Suggesting harmful therapeutic processes;
3. Is not following clinically and evidence-informed practice;
4. Has adopted practices that would be a danger to clients;
5. Suggesting a version of change therapy (conversion therapy), which could be viewed as illegal in South Africa given the constitutional protections on sexual orientation and gender equality; and
6. Is not equipped nor clinically trained to be practicing in his area of advertised speciality.
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