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Psychologist’s registration cancelled for sexual boundary violations

31 Mar 2021

A tribunal has cancelled a psychologist’s registration and disqualified him for applying for registration for three years, for professional misconduct. The practitioner appealed the decision to the Supreme Court of South Australia. The appeal was dismissed.

On 23 October 2018 the Psychology Board of Australia (the Board) referred Mr Maroulis to the South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (the tribunal). The Board alleged that on at least two occasions between 18 March and 3 April 2016, Mr Maroulis engaged in sexual and physical contact with a patient who he had tentatively diagnosed as having chronic major depression disorder with anxiety disorder.

In a response to the Board’s allegations, dated 3 October 2019, Mr Maroulis admitted to meeting with the patient at her place of residence and to not making contemporaneous notes. However, he denied that there had been consensual intimate physical and/or sexual contact with the patient other than her unsolicited kissing of him, which he said he attempted to resist. In November 2019, Mr Maroulis amended his response and admitted there had been consensual sexual contact, but that it was instigated by the patient. On 28 November 2019, he further amended his response to withdraw his assertion that the patient instigated the contact and that he had attempted to resist it. Mr Maroulis admitted that his behaviour constituted professional misconduct.

In considering the matter, the tribunal accepted that the conduct was consensual, however, it emphasised that the patient was vulnerable and her ‘ability to make wise choices about her involvement was compromised by her vulnerability. This should have been obvious to…an experienced psychologist.’

Further, the tribunal was of the view that there had been: ‘a staged movement to the position where the basic misconduct was admitted. That progression has the hallmarks of the respondent at each stage seeking to minimise his culpability but eventually being forced by the weight of evidence to admit what has occurred. The [t]ribunal remains concerned that the eventual admissions may well have been compelled by pragmatic considerations rather than true insight, acknowledgement and contrition.’

Mr Maroulis provided eight character references in his support, however, the tribunal noted that most of the referees appeared to be aware only of the allegations against Mr Maroulis and not of his ultimate admissions. Many of the referees believed the conduct to be ‘out of character’, leaving open the possibility that these referees believed the allegations untrue, which diminished any weight that could be given to the reference. The tribunal also noted that it appeared that the expert witness had only been provided with the amended response and not the further amended response.

Accordingly, the tribunal determined that Mr Maroulis’s conduct was inconsistent with him being a fit and proper person to hold registration. On 16 December 2019, the tribunal reprimanded Mr Maroulis, cancelled his registration and disqualified him from applying for registration as a health practitioner for three years.

Mr Maroulis appealed the sanction decision to the Supreme Court of South Australia (the court) on the basis that it was unduly harsh and did not give proper consideration to a report from an expert witness who concluded that Mr Maroulis had a desire to learn from the experience, and to the character references which stated that the behaviour was out of character.

On 26 February 2021, the court found that Mr Maroulis had not established any error on the part of the tribunal in imposing the sanctions that it did, and dismissed the appeal.

The full decision is available on Austlii.

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Page reviewed 31/03/2021