Former psychologist and Flemish media personality Kaat Bollen has given up her license after being reprimanded by the Belgian Commision of Psychologists because of “indiscreet” photographs and directing a pornographic film, igniting outrage and controversy online.
Critics are calling the decision a backwards and misogynistic move that polices Bollen for what she chooses to wear and do in her personal life, and effectively amounts to slut shaming.
Bollen is a well known personality within the Benelux media, where she often appears to discuss issues surrounding sex and relationships. She’s also authored three books, including “Het Schaamhaarboek” (“The Pubic Hair Book”), and directed “A Girls’ Getaway”, a pornographic film primarily targeted towards women.
Bollen’s publicly sex-positive attitude seems to have rubbed some of her peers the wrong way. In early 2020, an unknown colleague reported her to the Belgian Commission of Psychologists, an independent organization responsible for handing out all official practicing licenses in the country. In March, a special disciplinary committee heard the case and ultimately decided against Bollen, resulting in an official warning.
She later appealed the decision and, after looking at her case again in January, the Commision decided to go a step further and temporarily suspend her license. While their final judgement is confidential, Belgian national broadcaster VRT reports that it primarily cites a passage of the official code of ethics stating that a psychologist's behavior cannot damage the reputation of the larger profession.
According to excerpts of the verdict published by VRT, the committee writes that Bollen must “must at all times be aware of her profile and dignity” and that “the dignity of their profession is being affected and their image damaged.” The committee was reportedly concerned about Bollen’s public (and, at least currently, quite mild) Instagram account, her foray into the erotic film world, and the fact that she owns a webshop selling sex toys.
In a Saturday post to her Instagram account, Bollen blasted the decision and announced that she would be giving up her license altogether.
“Why is sexy and/or feminine not worthy,” Bollen wrote. “And since when do we psychologists judge the dignity of others? Shouldn’t we have an open mind and encourage authenticity? Since when should we as psychologists have to be more worthy than others? Aren't we just people trying to be there for other people? Is our strength as a psychologist not precisely in being human and the encounter between two real people?”
“If being a psychologist in 20201 means that I cannot be myself (not even in my private life, because that is what this is about!), then I would rather not be a psychologist,” she continued. “Therefore, I have decided to terminate my membership with the psychologist committee (and therefore also surrender my title of psychologist). That hurts and is difficult.”
The decision was quickly met with outcry and debate within the Belgian media and online. Women on Twitter and Instagram began posting pictures of themselves with the hashtag #istandwithkaat. Now, even Flemish Minister of Equal Opportunities Bart Somers is getting involved.
“Unheard of that in 2021 women in Flanders are still being told how they should or should not dress,” he tweeted. “As Minister of Equal Opportunities, I’m going to discuss this with the psychology committee next week. We don’t need a clothing police here.”
Bollen did not respond to Motherboard's request for comment. The Belgian Commission of Psychologists sent Motherboard a press release in which they explain the disciplinary process but refuse to offer any further comment on the reasoning behind the suspension of Bollen’s license.
“Because of this strict separation of powers [between sub committees], the independence and objectivity of the disciplinary bodies of the Commission of Psychologists, and the respect for the rule of law, the Committee of Psychologists will not comment further on the content of the Kaat Bollen case,” Julie Laloo, the committee’s director, wrote.
None of the Belgian psychologists that Motherboard reached out to directly wanted to speak on the record about Bollen’s case, although privately two of them expressed shock at the decision.
One who has spoken out publicly is clinical psychologist Lotte De Schrijver. In a post to the website of the Flemish Association of Clinical Psychologists, she questions what the ramifications of the decision could be for the future of the profession.
“From our basic training we already learn that in order to be a good psychologist, we have to use an open, non-judgmental attitude in combination with a therapeutic neutrality,” she writes. “We learn to be empathetic, accepting and authentic in therapeutic relationships. We also learn not to be guided by stereotypes and prejudices. Each person is unique. We accept the client / patient as they are, but then we condemn our colleagues when they express diversity? Strange!”
“The threatening thing about this decision is the message it gives, namely, that self-expression is only possible as long as it complies with 'coloring within the lines' when you wish to pursue a certain career path,” she continued, “How can we work ethically with clients and patients who struggle to reconcile potentially conflicting professional and personal attitudes and partial identities when we fail to maintain an open and non-judgmental attitude towards our own colleagues?”