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Tribunal reprimands and suspends psychologist, finds professional misconduct

18 May 2016

A psychologist has been reprimanded and his license suspended for nine months.

The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) has reprimanded a psychologist for professional misconduct, and suspended his registration for nine months from 10 March 2016.

The Psychology Board of Australia (the Board) referred allegations to VCAT about the conduct of the psychologist in November 2014. The allegations concern a relationship the psychologist formed with a vulnerable young woman, close to the time he terminated their professional relationship.

As a result of orders made by the Tribunal in August 2015, the psychologist’s name is anonymised to avoid causing undue distress or embarrassment to his former client (client A) because identification of the psychologist (IVX) would identify his former client with whom he now lives.

Client A had been referred to IVX by her general practitioner with a history of abuse, depression and self-harm. She had 11 counselling sessions with IVX between August 2011 and 6 February 2012.

On a number of occasions in early to mid-February 2012, IVX visited client A’s business, which was a tattoo parlour. Client A tattooed IVX and a friendship developed. She asked if he had room for a boarder, IVX agreed and she moved into his house. Very soon after, an intimate personal relationship developed and they have lived together since.

The Tribunal found that from mid-February 2012, IVX, while working as a psychologist, engaged in conduct constituting professional misconduct in that he engaged in an intimate personal relationship with Client A, a client he had been treating since August 2011 and whose final consultation was 6 February 2012, and whom he knew to be vulnerable to emotional and physical exploitation, in circumstances where at the time the relationship commenced:

  • Client A was yet to be referred to an alternate psychologist
  • Client A had not been formally discharged back to the general practitioner who had referred her to IVX
  • IVX had taken no or insufficient steps to ensure Client A had received independent advice about entering into the intimate personal relationship, and
  •  IVX had not sought supervision from a peer regarding his decision to enter the intimate personal relationship.

Although the Tribunal did not characterise the psychologist’s conduct in this case as predatory, it considered that IVX showed an “astonishing blindness to the risk of harm in allowing the dual relationship to occur”. Further, that he also apparently failed to understand and apply the guidelines for ethical conduct, focussing instead on what he understood of the prohibition on sexual relationships.

VCAT determined that IVX be reprimanded, that his registration as a psychologist be suspended for a period of nine months from 10 March 2016, that he undergo a period of mentoring and/or education to the satisfaction of the Board at his own expense and that following resumption of registration, IVX is to undertake professional supervision for a period of twelve months at fortnightly intervals.

The reasons for the Tribunal’s decision are available on AustLII.

Page reviewed 18/05/2016