Psychologist reprimanded for unprofessional conduct of a serious nature

12 Oct 2017

A tribunal has reprimanded a psychologist for engaging in an inappropriate personal relationship with a client.

The Tribunal summarised the matter in its reasons as follows

  1. In 2002 Mr Treacher was a presenter and facilitator at a series of human relations sessions. At one of these sessions an attendee approached Mr Treacher and asked if he could provide her psychological treatment. He agreed, and between 2002 and 2004, they had a professional relationship, seeing each other in consultations and at human relations sessions.
  2. During the course of the professional relationship, Mr Treacher engaged in conduct with the client that included hugging the client, permitting the client to sit on his knee, sending her emails that contained inappropriate language and meeting privately with her after human relations sessions. In the midst of these professional and personal meetings, the client told Mr Treacher that she was in love with him. Despite this declaration Mr Treacher continued to provide psychological services to the client, allowed physical contact to occur between them and to have dealings with the client outside scheduled consultations.

In January 2014, AHPRA received a mandatory notification about Mr Treacher’s professional conduct in respect of the client. The Psychology Board of Australia (the Board) decided to investigate the conduct in March 2014 and in June 2015, the Board referred the matter to the Tribunal.

Mr Treacher retired from his practice in 2016 and allowed his registration as a psychologist to lapse.

As the conduct occurred before the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law, as in force in each state and territory (National Law) came into force1, the tribunal considered the practitioner’s conduct in accordance with the Psychologists Registration Act 2000 (Vic) (PR Act).

There was no allegation before the tribunal that Mr Treacher engaged in an intimate relationship with the client. The issue was whether his personal relationship was nevertheless inappropriate because it crossed the boundaries which should stand between a registered psychologist and a client.

Mr Treacher acknowledged that his conduct constituted boundary breaches and amounted to ‘unprofessional conduct’ of a serious nature as defined in Section 48 of the PR Act, falling within the part of the definition which refers to ‘professional misconduct’.

The tribunal ordered Mr Treacher be reprimanded. In making this determination, the tribunal affirmed that a reprimand was the most serious determination that it could make given that Mr Treacher was no longer registered. The tribunal accepted that had Mr Treacher still been registered, it would have been open to the Board to seek suspension of his registration and for that determination to be considered by the tribunal.

The tribunal’s decision is available on the AustLII website.

1The National Law came into effect on 1 July 2010.

 
 
Page reviewed 12/10/2017