Psychologist suspended for 18 months after inappropriate relationship with client

25 Mar 2021

A Western Australian clinical psychologist has been suspended for 18 months for professional misconduct after having an inappropriate sexual relationship with a client.

The Psychology Board of Australia (the Board) referred clinical psychologist, Dr Susana Martin to the Western Australian State Administrative Tribunal (the Tribunal) in August 2020 for professional misconduct.

The Board alleged that in 2013 Dr Martin entered into a personal relationship with a person who, from April 2011 to August 2011, had been her client. In July 2015, the relationship between Dr Martin and the client became sexual. The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency became aware of the relationship on 20 April 2018.

During the period of 2013 to 2015, Dr Martin’s personal and professional relationship blurred with her former client, becoming intimate. Dr Martin had knowledge of the client, his marriage and mental health.

Additionally, in 2014 Dr Martin asked to speak with the client’s daughter who was suffering from anxiety; the client agreed, and Dr Martin spoke with his daughter on three occasions. Dr Martin used her training and knowledge as a psychologist during these discussions; she did not take notes or maintain records of these discussions.

Dr Martin and the client continued to speak infrequently until 2017 when their communication became more regular and included messages and photographs of a sexual nature.

Dr Martin acknowledged she did not meet the high standards of professional conduct her profession expects and expressed regret for that. She also expressed remorse at the affect her conduct had on the client’s family. The Tribunal accepted Dr Martin had no previous disciplinary history, that her conduct was isolated to one client and that she has practiced for several years since without repeating the conduct.

The Tribunal found Dr Martin’s conduct constituted professional misconduct, reprimanded her and suspended her registration for a period of 18 months from 26 November 2020. The Tribunal also imposed conditions on her registration once the period of suspension ends, including:

  • supervised practice for six months; and
  • completing education in managing professional boundaries, avoiding conflicts of interest and dual/multiple relationships.

Dr Martin was also ordered to pay costs of $5,000.

The full Tribunal decision is available on Austlii.


 
 
Page reviewed 25/03/2021