Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency - Former psychologist reprimanded, disqualified from applying for registration and prohibited from providing health services
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Former psychologist reprimanded, disqualified from applying for registration and prohibited from providing health services

20 Dec 2023

A former Queensland psychologist has been reprimanded by a tribunal and disqualified from applying for registration for 24 months for professional misconduct that included providing non-evidence-based treatments and not maintaining adequate clinical records.

Paul Dunne was referred to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (the tribunal) by the Psychology Board of Australia (the Board) for alleged practice and conduct below the standard reasonably expected of a registered psychologist.

The tribunal found each of the following allegations against Mr Dunne proven as professional misconduct:

  • the use of non-evidence-based treatments including Emotional Freedom Technique, Applied Kinesiology and Energy Psychology on 10 patients
  • failure to conduct risk assessments, consider differential diagnoses and/or document treatment plans
  • failure to maintain adequate clinical records
  • inappropriate physical contact and/or failure to obtain or record adequate or appropriate informed consent, and
  • inappropriate communication with a specified client in circumstances which he knew, or ought to have known, were professionally inappropriate and a boundary violation.

As Mr Dunne was not registered at the time of the hearing, the tribunal ordered that Mr Dunne be:

  • reprimanded
  • disqualified from applying for registration as a registered health practitioner for 24 months, and
  • prohibited from providing whether as an employee, contractor, manager or volunteer, and whether directly or indirectly, any health service involving the provision of mental health, psychological or counselling services until such time as he is returned to the Register of practitioners.

The Board started an investigation into Mr Dunne’s conduct after a complaint was referred by the Office of the Health Ombudsman. The complaint was raised after an audit of Mr Dunne’s client files.

The Board’s investigation concerned his work as a psychologist with Headspace, an organisation providing early intervention mental health services to young people aged 12 to 25. At the conclusion of its investigation, the Board decided to restrict where Mr Dunne could practice and on 19 June 2019 it imposed supervision conditions on his registration. The following day, Mr Dunne surrendered his registration to practise as a psychologist.

In July 2023, the tribunal, assisted by the unchallenged expert evidence, found that Mr Dunne’s performance and conduct fell substantially below the standard reasonably expected of a psychologist of equivalent training and experience.

The expert evidence said the non-evidence-based treatment and techniques he employed were not part of the established knowledge and discipline of the profession. Mr Dunne had failed to use and maintain that established knowledge and discipline when practising.

While no overt harm to the clients could be identified resulting from the techniques used by Mr Dunne, expert opinion was that there was an adverse impact for clients because each was entitled to assume they would receive evidence-based and effective treatment.

Expert opinion was that Mr Dunne’s approach to ongoing risk assessment and recording of a treatment plan did not result from negligence or oversight, but rather by reference to a deliberate decision consistent with his own view of what was necessary, distinct from that which was required by the psychology profession’s standards.

In relation to the inappropriate communication with a patient (a text message sent by Mr Dunne), the tribunal accepted the expert evidence that it was difficult to imagine any circumstance where a message with such content should be sent to a vulnerable, suicidal young person. Sending the specific text failed the expectations of both Mr Dunne’s professional peers and the public, was professionally inappropriate and amounted to a boundary violation.

Mr Dunne is no longer registered as a psychologist and has not reapplied for registration since he surrendered it. Regardless of these circumstances, the tribunal said sanctions operate to enhance public trust by demonstrating that the high standards expected of psychologists are upheld and enforced.

The tribunal said Mr Dunne’s conduct was deliberate, was not isolated and that he knew his conduct involved practices or therapies that were not part of accepted psychological practice and were not evidence based.

Read the tribunal’s full decision on AustLII.

Page reviewed 20/12/2023