Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency - Psychologist has registration cancelled for boundary violations
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Psychologist has registration cancelled for boundary violations

19 Oct 2022

A Victorian psychologist has had her registration cancelled, has been reprimanded and disqualified from applying for registration or providing any health service until July 2023 for professional misconduct.

The Psychology Board of Australia (the Board) referred Ms Julianna Bonola to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (the tribunal) after allegations were made about multiple relationships with three related clients; attempting to deceive and/or mislead other practitioners; and failing to prepare adequate treatment plans and keep accurate clinical records.

Three of the five allegations related to Ms Bonola’s treatment of, and multiple relationships with a client, Ms A, and Ms A’s husband and mother.

Ms Bonola treated Ms A, who had a vulnerable psychological background arising from childhood sexual trauma, for three years from February 2015 to March 2018. Early in 2015 Ms Bonola offered Ms A work at her practice in exchange for psychological sessions after it became apparent Ms A could no longer afford them. This later evolved into a paid work position.

Ms A worked for Ms Bonola for around three and a half years until December 2018. During this time, multiple relationships existed between Ms Bonola and Ms A, including treating and employment relationships. A personal and/or social relationship also formed that included:

  • Ms A helping Ms Bonola arrange her mother’s funeral
  • Ms A helping Ms Bonola with home renovation plans
  • Ms Bonola helping Ms A move to a new house
  • shopping together, and
  • Ms Bonola giving Ms A gifts.

Ms Bonola and Ms A also exchanged more than 2,700 text messages over a two- and half-year period that merged the treating, employment and social relationships.

In addition to her treatment of Ms A, Ms Bonola also engaged in treating and social relationships with Ms A’s husband and mother.

The remaining allegations related to Ms Bonola’s:

  • attempt to deceive and/or mislead other practitioners when she directed Ms A to alter a Mental Health Care Plan which had been prepared by Ms A’s doctor by removing her name as Ms A’s treating practitioner, and
  • failure to prepare an adequate treatment plan and keep accurate clinical records in her treatment of Ms A.

In handing down its orders on 22 August 2022 the tribunal found Ms Bonola’s behaviour in relation to the five allegations amounted to professional misconduct. The tribunal:

  • reprimanded Ms Bonola
  • cancelled her registration
  • disqualified her from applying for registration as a health practitioner until after 31 July 2023, and
  • prohibited her from providing any health service involving the provision of mental health, psychological or counselling services until after 31 July 2023, whether as an employee, contractor, manager or volunteer.

In delivering its findings, the tribunal notes that Ms Bonola’s conduct was ‘at the most serious end of non-sexual boundary violations’ and ‘warrants a significant total period out of practice, particularly for the purposes of general deterrence’.

The full decision is available on Austlii.

Page reviewed 19/10/2022