03 Mar 2023
A tribunal has reprimanded a former Victorian psychologist for professional misconduct after finding he failed to recognise he was ‘professionally out of his depth’.
Mr Glen Ross was referred to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (the tribunal) by the Psychology Board of Australia (the Board) in March 2020 for alleged professional misconduct and/or unprofessional conduct in his dealings with a patient.
The Board alleged that Mr Ross had failed to:
At a hearing in December 2022, the tribunal heard of the patient’s history of self-harm, borderline personality disorder, anxiety and depression. She saw Mr Ross 17 times during 2018–2019 and at some of these sessions disclosed that she had fantasised about an intimate relationship with him.
The patient and her husband inadvertently gained Mr Ross’s mobile phone number after he reached out following the patient’s suicide attempt. Text communication then started with both the patient and her husband outside office hours. Mr Ross later also gave his private email address to the patient through which they corresponded.
Topics subsequently discussed in the text and email correspondence were not clinically necessary or justified and there was no mention of them in Mr Ross’s clinical notes. He also did not record in his clinical notes making a personal visit to the patient in hospital.
Mr Ross had discussed with his practice manager terminating the professional relationship in the weeks before he sent the patient a letter about that but had delayed sending the letter after not being able to find anyone to refer her to.
After being informed that the patient had made allegations against him, Mr Ross wrote to the patient, terminating the professional relationship. His letter did not provide the patient with any emergency treatment telephone numbers or a specific crisis management strategy. Mr Ross changed his phone number without informing the patient, effectively blocking her and her husband.
While Mr Ross had also written to the patient’s general practitioner and psychiatrist, he failed in his attempts to find another clinic for the patient over the busy Christmas/New Year period before he left for an overseas holiday.
Professional practice guidelines for psychologists state that: ‘Psychologists are aware of the potential boundary issues with clients to emerge related to the internet and telecommunications’. An expert opinion given to the tribunal found that Mr Ross did not appear to have established a process to support the use of communication technology within the therapeutic relationship.
Of greater concern, was that Mr Ross did not appear to have sought guidance on the maintenance of this aspect of their relationship from either his external supervisor or more senior practitioners within his clinic.
In addition, the expert opinion was that the manner in which Mr Ross had managed the end of his care was driven by his response to the perceived crisis that developed due to the allegation the patient had made, as opposed to what was the most clinically appropriate and relevant decision to make.
The tribunal said it was satisfied that Mr Ross’s conduct was an example of an inexperienced practitioner who – while treating a very complex patient – was professionally out of his depth and failed to recognise this. Mr Ross had been practising independently for about one year when the patient was referred to him.
The tribunal said Mr Ross exhibited poor judgement and accepted that in some of his decision-making he was well meaning, if misguided. This led to a cascade of errors and Mr Ross failed to establish and use a therapeutic framework which led to boundary violations.
The tribunal found Mr Ross’s conduct amounted to professional misconduct. It decided not to impose a period of disqualification, noting the extensive period Mr Ross had not been practising, which he said was due to his inability to find employment because of conditions the Board imposed on his registration in March 2019.
Mr Ross is no longer registered to practise as a psychologist after allowing his registration to lapse in January 2021. He must re-apply for registration and satisfy the Board that he is a suitable person to be registered again.
Read the tribunal’s full decision on the AustLII website.