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Psychologist reprimanded and suspended from practising

20 Jun 2016

The South Australian Health Practitioners Tribunal has reprimanded psychologist Michelle Bakjac for professional misconduct and suspended her registration.

The Psychology Board of Australia (the Board) referred Ms Bakjac to the tribunal for sanction after she admitted to engaging in professional misconduct by:

  • entering into and fostering an inappropriate personal relationship with a client
  • starting a sexual relationship with the client which is ongoing, and
  • providing a false and misleading explanation about the relationship to the Board-appointed investigators.

At the hearing, the Board’s legal counsel emphasised that psychologists have special obligations to protect the vulnerabilities of clients and it was Ms Bakjac’s duty not to transgress or violate the professional boundary.

The Board’s assertion was that Ms Bakjac’s conduct impaired her competence, effectiveness or objectivity to render psychological services and led to the exploitation of her client.

It was highlighted that Ms Bakjac owed the Board a duty of co-operation and candour which she breached by giving false explanations to try and exculpate herself and to mislead the Board’s investigator.

The tribunal reprimanded Ms Bakjac, suspended her registration as a psychologist for 15 months and imposed conditions on her registration.

The conditions include that within one month of returning to practise after the suspension she:

  • start 12 months of supervision with a registered psychologist approved by the Board
  • ensure that the Board receives a report from the supervisor every three months, and
  • provide the Board with a reflective paper, within one month of receiving the supervisor’s final report, on the learning outcomes of the supervision and how she will implement the learning principles in her practice as a psychologist.

The supervision is to include the areas of professional boundaries and multiple relationships, including how power imbalances may manifest and the dynamics of transference and counter transference in therapeutic relationships.

Ms Bakjac must also complete education in the standards of behaviour expected of a registered psychologist, including the:

  • maintenance of proper boundaries
  • ethics
  • obligations of a registered psychologist in responding to an inquiry by a regulatory authority about their conduct or practice, and
  • appropriate clinical records.

The tribunal ordered Ms Bakjac pay the Board’s costs.

Reasons for the tribunal’s decision are available on AustLII.

Page reviewed 20/06/2016