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Counsellor fined for posing as a psychologist to a vulnerable family

13 Jul 2017

Court fines a Victorian man holding himself out as a registered psychologist.

A court in Victoria has found a man guilty of holding himself out as a registered psychologist. He treated patients as a psychologist while not registered to do so under the National Law1.

On 30 May 2017, the individual was found guilty of three charges and sentenced in the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria at Moorabbin (the court). The charges were brought by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) on behalf of the Psychology Board of Australia (the Board), after they received and investigated two complaints, including a complaint from a mother of two young patients, that related to an individual holding himself out as a psychologist at a private clinic in Moorabbin and in an e-mail communication and misusing the title ‘psychologist’ in relation to himself while not registered.

The title ‘psychologist’ is protected under the National Law and can only be used by qualified and trained practitioners who are registered with the Board.

The accused pleaded guilty to holding himself out as a psychologist for a period of almost four months, during which time he treated two young patients who attended for psychological services relating to difficulties they were experiencing as the result of the separation of their parents. He also held himself out in an e-mail to a registered psychologist and misused the title ‘psychologist’ in relation to himself on six occasions, including on receipts and in a clinical report he prepared for the purpose of anticipated court proceedings.

It was AHPRA’s case that the complainant mother believed her children were being treated by a registered, trained and qualified psychologist. Despite having qualifications which included a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and a Masters in Counselling the individual has never been registered to practise as a psychologist in Australia.

The individual pleaded guilty and was fined $15,000 and ordered to pay the mother the sum of $813, as well as costs to AHPRA of $6,975.

AHPRA’s submissions emphasised the particular vulnerability of the patients, the gross betrayal of trust and the individual’s offending being motivated by financial gain.

Psychology Board of Australia Chair, Professor Brin Grenyer welcomed the Court’s decision.

‘This case should be reassuring to parents who are considering accessing care from a psychologist for their family that regulation is here to protect you. Parents or any member of the public can check the national online Register of practitioners anytime and from anywhere by going to the AHPRA or Psychology Board websites. The register can help you look up the practitioner you are thinking of going to see so you can check out their credentials and if they have any restrictions on their practice you might want to know about. However, if you cannot find them on the register – please think twice about going to see them and let us know.’

Speaking of the outcome Martin Fletcher, AHPRA CEO added, ‘On this occasion the mother was able to report this individual to AHPRA – and we took her concerns seriously. The message to parents is, if you are not sure, check our register to make sure you are seeing a registered practitioner.'

In considering the sentence, the court remarked that the sentence took into account that the purpose of the National Law was to protect the public and indicated that the individual’s conduct sought to undermine the operation of the National Scheme, which is the system by which health practitioners are regulated in Australia.

It was noted that the individual understood the gravity of his conduct and was apologetic.

No conviction was recorded.

Make sure you are seeing a registered health practitioner

It is a serious matter if anyone who is not a registered health practitioner claims to be a registered health practitioner or uses titles that are protected under the National Law (e.g. ‘psychologist', ‘medical practitioner', ‘nurse’ etc.). Both are offences and may be prosecuted by AHPRA.

The National Law protects the public by ensuring that only registered health practitioners who are suitably trained and qualified are able to use protected titles. The law allows for penalties for using protected titles or holding out as a registered practitioner when not entitled to. It is also an offence to perform manipulation of the cervical spine unless the person is a registered chiropractor, osteopath, medical practitioner or physiotherapist. The maximum penalty which a court may impose is $30,000 (in the case of an individual) or $60,000 (in the case of a body corporate).

AHPRA reminds consumers that it is important that they ensure that the practitioner they are seeing is appropriately registered. Anyone receiving treatment from an unregistered person who is claiming to be registered is a cause for concern and we want to hear from them. Remember to check the Register of practitioners or you can raise a concern by calling 1300 419 495.

For more information

  • For media enquiries: (03) 8708 9200.
  • Lodge an online enquiry form.
  • For registration enquiries: 1300 419 495 (within Australia) +61 3 9275 9009 (overseas callers).

1Health Practitioner Regulation National Law, as in force in each state and territory (the National Law).

Page reviewed 13/07/2017