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Psychologist who mismanaged vulnerable patient suspended for one year

19 Mar 2020

The Victorian and Civil Administrative Tribunal (the tribunal) has reprimanded and suspended a psychologist after it was found she had engaged in professional misconduct.

Melissa White was found to have allowed a professional relationship with a client to develop into a platonic social friendship, without ensuring that her client /friend was sufficiently protected from the foreseeable collateral impacts of that transition. Associated with this were inadequacies in client care in relation to record-keeping, risk assessments and continuity of client care.

The practitioner had also been the subject of prior disciplinary action for boundary transgressions in 2012 to 2013, resulting in supervision conditions being imposed on her registration in December 2014.

The tribunal made findings of professional misconduct in relation to each of the six allegations against the practitioner, namely that she:

  • engaged in inappropriate communications outside scheduled sessions, and established a personal platonic relationship with her client during the treating relationship;
  • crossed professional boundaries, and not acted in her client’s best interests, by telling the client that she had previously been the subject of a complaint in relation to boundary violations;
  • failed to record in her clinical file conversations with other professionals involved in the treatment of her client, thus prejudicing the client’s best interests in the event that her clinical file was relied upon by others in the future;
  • failed to make adequate assessments of the risks faced by her client;
  • failed to make reasonable arrangements for the continuity of psychological services for her client after the professional relationship ended, and the personal relationship had commenced;
  • engaged in a personal relationship with her client after cessation of the treating relationship, without adequate consideration of her welfare, and whether an equal relationship could be established.

The practitioner was found guilty of professional misconduct. The tribunal ordered that the practitioner be reprimanded and her registration be suspended for a period of 12 months. Following the suspension, the practitioner will also have education and supervision conditions imposed on her registration.

The tribunal noted that one of the lessons arising from this case is the danger for health professionals in using informal means to communicate with their clients. In this case, text messaging. This can lead practitioners more easily down the road towards breaching their ethical obligations, and to the blurring of boundaries between professional and personal conduct.

The full findings are available on the Austlii website.

Page reviewed 19/03/2020