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Sexual relationship with client (02HDC11760)
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(02HDC11760, 28 April 2004)
Psychologist ~ Recent former
client ~ Compliance with ethical standards ~ Professional
boundaries ~ Sexual relationship ~ Rights 2, 4(2)
A gynaecologist complained on behalf of a female patient that a
psychologist had had an inappropriate sexual relationship with her,
including moving into her home. The 60-year-old woman disclosed the
relationship during a routine consultation with the gynaecologist.
He noted that she was extremely distressed and he suggested that
she make a formal complaint. She was reluctant to do so but later
wrote to disclose the identity of the psychologist to the
gynaecologist, who then made the complaint.
The woman initially visited the psychologist after experiencing a
number of traumatic events in her family. She said that she was
aware "early on" of the psychologist's interest in her, and that
she had responded to his signals, which she described as
"flirtatious". The woman and the psychologist then entered into a
sexual relationship. There is disparity about whether the
consultations ended at this point or earlier, or indeed continued,
as client notes appear to have been made for only one session, and
diary entries are inconclusive.
About five months later the psychologist moved into the woman's
house as her partner, but left approximately two months afterwards.
During this period he was receiving treatment for depression and
anxiety, and the woman assisted in caring for him. She reported
experiencing continuing anxiety, panic attacks and insomnia as a
result of the relationship.
The psychologist was held to have breached Rights 2 and 4(2), as
he should have known that a sexual relationship with a recent
former client was unethical and had the potential to cause her
harm. His actions were unprofessional and exploitative, and cannot
be excused by his ill-health. It is a responsibility of
psychologists to provide structure and safety within their
professional relationships and, if unfit to do so, to withdraw from
The psychologist also breached Right 4(2) and the Code of Ethics
for psychologists and psychotherapists, in not keeping adequate
records of the consultations.
The complaint was referred to the Director of Proceedings, who
decided not to issue proceedings.
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