Psychology Board of Australia - Victorian psychologist reprimanded by tribunal for professional misconduct in multiple treating relationship
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Victorian psychologist reprimanded by tribunal for professional misconduct in multiple treating relationship

04 Dec 2023

A Victorian psychologist who treated two patients as both a psychologist and nutritionist has been reprimanded by a tribunal for professional misconduct and been put under supervision.

Dr Jacques Duff was referred to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (the tribunal) by the Psychology Board of Australia (the Board) for failing to:

  • effectively manage multiple treating relationships (as a nutritionist and a psychologist) with patients AP (an 11-year-old with Tics) and EG (a patient who had attempted suicide)
  • maintain adequate records in relation to patient AP, and
  • ensure timely communication with EG’s general practitioner (GP) by not advising that the treating relationship had ended in circumstances where the patient was vulnerable.

In August, the tribunal found Dr Duff’s failure to effectively manage multiple treating relationships with both patients was professional misconduct.

In providing psychological services while also prescribing and selling nutritional supplements in addition to giving nutritional advice, Dr Duff had failed to comply with the psychology profession’s code of ethics.

The code requires psychologists to refrain from engaging in multiple relationships that may impair their competence, effectiveness, objectivity, or ability to render a psychological service, harm clients or other parties to a psychological service and/or lead to their exploitation.

The unchallenged expert opinion to the tribunal was that Dr Duff had taken no steps to avoid working in more than one occupation with the same client, something that should be avoided, and he had indeed structured his practice around this.

The expert said when taken all together, the integration of psychological and nutrition work in the same practice with one client, the lack of psychological assessment and a treatment plan, the limited emphasis on psychological interventions, and the recommendation that psychological treatment be sought elsewhere demonstrated that Dr Duff did:

  • engage in multiple relationships
  • fail to separate his different professional roles, and
  • fail to manage these to the extent that the psychological treatment was compromised.

The tribunal accepted the expert opinion.

Dr Duff’s failure to communicate with patient EG’s GP in a timely manner was found to be unprofessional conduct, as was his failure to maintain adequate records for patient AP. The tribunal noted there were no elements of dishonesty, wilful disregard or recklessness by Dr Duff regarding deficiencies in the patient records. It also noted that neither patient had suffered any harm.

The tribunal ordered that Dr Duff:

  • is reprimanded, and
  • has conditions on his registration requiring supervision by another registered psychologist for a minimum of six sessions over six months.

The Board had submitted that Dr Duff be suspended for three months to act as a general deterrence to others. However, it was the tribunal’s view that this was not appropriate given:

  • Dr Duff had now employed a qualified nutritionist who practised autonomously
  • the delay (due in part to COVID-19) in concluding this matter, including the uncertainty, stress and anxiety this may have caused, and
  • that being 79-years-old, Dr Duff is much closer to the end of his career than the beginning.

Read the tribunal’s full decision on AustLII.

Page reviewed 4/12/2023