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Inappropriate relationship with client (08HDC17394)
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(08HDC17394, 16 September 2009)
Counsellor ~ Inappropriate relationship ~ Rights 2,
A woman complained about the actions of a counsellor working for
a district health board's Community Alcohol and Drug Service. The
woman was seeing the counsellor in relation to her alcohol use and
associated issues. After a text conversation between the woman and
the counsellor one evening, the counsellor drove 60kms to the house
where the woman was staying. They went for a short drive and
engaged in consensual sexual foreplay, before the woman asked him
to take her back to the house. After the woman got out of the car,
the counsellor sent a text asking for oral sex. The woman refused
and the counsellor left.
The woman recognised that although the contact had been
consensual, this was not appropriate behaviour for a counsellor.
She initially contacted the Police and then complained to the DHB.
The counsellor denied the events but soon after he resigned his
position and the DHB's investigation was not concluded.
It was held that it was the counsellor's responsibility in this
relationship to set and maintain safe professional boundaries. His
behaviour was contrary to his obligations under the Code of Ethics
of his professional association in relation to trust, honesty and
integrity and professional conduct. He added to the woman's
distress and misled the DHB and HDC by lying about his actions for
several months. Accordingly, he breached Right 4(2).
The unequal interpersonal power in relationships between
counsellors and clients allows the potential for exploitation. The
woman's personal situation and well-being were fragile and the
counsellor was aware of events in her past that accentuated her
vulnerability. His disregard for these matters was a breach of
Right 2 of the Code.
The counsellor was referred to the Director of Proceedings, who
decided to take a claim to the Human Rights Review Tribunal.
However, the matter was resolved between the parties through a
process of restorative justice that included the counsellor paying
compensation to the consumer and undertaking voluntary work in the
community, prior to a Statement of Claim being filed.
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