Psychology Board of Australia - Crossing professional boundaries leads to nine-month suspension for WA psychologist
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Crossing professional boundaries leads to nine-month suspension for WA psychologist

28 Aug 2023

A West Australian psychologist, who engaged in inappropriate conduct and transgressed professional boundaries with two patients, has been reprimanded by a tribunal and had his registration suspended for nine months.

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In December 2022, the Psychology Board of Australia (the Board) referred Mr David Hilton to the State Administrative Tribunal (WA) (the tribunal) for professional misconduct.

The Board alleged, and Mr Hilton accepted, that during consultations in May and June 2019 with Patient A for a depressive episode associated with a range of issues including past relationships, Mr Hilton made inappropriate comments about her appearance, blew a kiss to the patient and hugged and kissed her at the end of a consultation.

In separate incidents during three consultations in February and March 2019, Mr Hilton made inappropriate comments about the appearance of Patient B, who was referred to him by her GP for extremely severe depression, including that she was ‘really hot’ and ‘this may be inappropriate, but you look like one of my ex-girlfriends. Mr Hilton also disclosed personal information about himself to Patient B.

The Board further alleged that in both cases, Mr Hilton failed to provide adequate and appropriate care and treatment for both patients and failed to make and keep accurate records, including that he did not make adequate notes regarding the nature of the consultations, did not record any assessments or clinical findings made or how any treatment would be administered.

Both patients lodged notifications with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (Ahpra) in June and August of 2019 and in October 2019, the Board took immediate action and suspended Mr Hilton’s registration. The immediate action suspension remained in place up until the tribunal made its final orders on 9 May 2023.

In July 2022, Mr Hilton engaged in disreputable and unethical conduct by attending Patient B’s workplace after finding her on Linkedin and confronted Patient B about her allegations to Ahpra.

Mr Hilton had been a registered psychologist for 25 years with no prior disciplinary history. His career largely involved providing psychological care to vulnerable people, including asylum seekers and Aboriginal communities.

Mr Hilton co-operated with the Board throughout its investigation and he accepted at an early stage that his conduct with both patients was unprofessional and inappropriate.

The tribunal found Mr Hilton’s conduct in July 2022 was driven by significant stress and was not intended to persuade the patient to withdraw her complaint. Mr Hilton showed immediate and genuine insight and remorse for his conduct and provided an apology letter to the Board on 15 July 2022 which stated he was profoundly sorry.

The tribunal determined that Mr Hilton engaged in professional misconduct and that he be reprimanded and suspended for a period of nine months. Following the period of suspension his registration is subject to conditions, with a 12-month review period requiring him to be supervised and to carry out education. It was further ordered he pay $6,000 towards the Board’s costs.

Read the tribunal’s full decision on eCourts.

Page reviewed 28/08/2023