When is a psychologist not a psychologist? When they become the patient's friend, landlord, employer

July 7, 2012

Psychologist Jean Barnes lost her license because she could not simply be a psychologist.

On September 19, 2011, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal—the health care disciplinary agency of the Australian state of Victoria—revoked the Barnes' license..

Between January 1994 and December 2004, Ms. Barnes was the director of a college counseling service and was also employed as a tutor and lecturer in one of the colleges Graduate Diploma courses.

According to the Tribunal’s document, in 1994, Barnes was a tutor to a female student who was studying at the college to get a degree in mental health counseling. Later in 1994, Barnes invited the student, who had by then gained her diploma, to work with her as a counselor at the college.

Barnes was aware that the graduate was a vulnerable person as the graduate had informed Barnes of, among other things, a history of childhood sexual abuse from a member of the clergy.

During the time that the graduate worked under Barnes, the two exchanged poetry, spent considerable time together, including vacation time, and otherwise became emotionally very close—conduct which is precluded by all ethics codes for psychologists issued in Australia.

When the personal relationship

Barnes worked in private practice from 2005 until her license was suspended in 2009. In 2006, she provided counseling services to a married couple. She provided individual counseling as well to the wife.

The wife revealed much to Barnes, including a history of sexual abuse. In late 2006, Barnes invited the wife to stay at her house, which she did on two occasions. Later, she resided there continuously until mid-2009 and participated in Barnes’ family and social life. During this time, Ms. Barnes had the wife sleep with her in her bed for a certain period of time. The wife even worked for Barnes’ daughter, cleaning her house.

The document also states that during counseling sessions, she physically interacted with the wife by stroking her hair, holding her hands, rubbing her hands and feet, allowing her to put her head in Barnes’ lap and massaging her shoulders.

Further, she gave poetry that she had written to the wife and read the wife’s private e-mails. 

Ultimately, the wife recognized that she was not benefiting from Barnes’ service and left her home. The Tribunal found that Barnes did not possess the level of skill to address the wife’s complex troubles nor the competence to recognize the need to such things as medical care, citing an incident when the wife arrived at her home physically injured and Barnes failed to summon medical attention.

Barnes will have to wait two years before she can petition to get her license back.


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