Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency - Social worker fined $7,000 for breaching the National Law

Social worker fined $7,000 for breaching the National Law

14 Jun 2022

A Queensland-based social worker who claimed to be a psychologist and treated a patient has today been fined $7,000 by the Sandgate Magistrates’ Court following prosecution by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (Ahpra).

Key points

  • A Queensland-based social worker has been fined $7,000 for a single offence of holding themselves out to be a psychologist.
  • A patient attended five treatment sessions with the person, during which the patient believed they were seeing a registered psychologist.
  • Today’s proceedings were brought by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (Ahpra).

The person, who has a background in social work, told the patient they were a psychologist despite having never held registration with the Psychology Board of Australia (the Psychology Board).

Believing them to be a psychologist, the patient received treatment over five sessions between February and March 2021.

During those sessions, the patient disclosed personal and sensitive information to the person, who diagnosed the patient with a disorder. The sessions only ceased when the patient discovered they were receiving treatment from a person who was not a registered psychologist.

Despite being confronted by the patient, the person continued to claim they were registered. Even when being investigated and required by Ahpra to stop making false claims, the person told the Ahpra investigator they were a provisional psychologist and held registration.

Ahpra and the Psychology Board work together to protect the public by ensuring that only registered psychologists who are suitably trained and qualified can claim to be registered. Describing yourself as a ‘psychologist’ or ‘provisional psychologist’ and otherwise falsely claiming to be a registered health practitioner, are criminal offences under the National Law.

Today, the person pleaded guilty and was sentenced at the Sandgate Magistrates’ Court for one charge of holding out as a registered psychologist between 8 February 2021 and 5 May 2021. Acting Magistrate Murphy imposed a fine of $7,000, without a conviction recorded.

Acting Magistrate Murphy commented that the protection of the public was a paramount principle of the National Law.

Ahpra CEO Martin Fletcher urged anyone seeking treatment from a practitioner to search the online national register of practitioners if they wanted to check they were seeing a health practitioner from one of the 16 health professions regulated under the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme (the National Scheme).

‘If the person you are seeing is calling themselves a psychologist or a psychiatrist and they are not on the public register, they are not registered to practise.’

Psychologists are registered with the Psychology Board of Australia and psychiatrists are medical practitioners who have specialist registration with the Medical Board of Australia.

‘Social workers and counsellors provide important services to the community but are not regulated health professions under the National Scheme,’ Mr Fletcher said.

Psychology Board of Australia Chair Rachel Phillips said recent improvements to the online public register mean it is now easier than ever before for someone to check they are seeing a qualified and experience psychologist.

‘Registered psychologists must meet national standards of practice and the public register enables anyone to check the current registration status of their practitioner,’ Ms Phillips said.

Helpful tips and a video about how to search the public register are published on the Ahpra website.’

Anyone with concerns about the registration of a practitioner can contact Ahpra on 1300 419 495.

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Page reviewed 14/06/2022