A psychologist treating a couple for marital problems has been disqualified after he had sex with the wife in his consulting rooms, a Tribunal heard.
Gerard Dominic Knobel admitted being physically intimate with the woman at least 10 times, with a tribunal this week finding one of the occasions was during a consultation for which he claimed Medicare benefits or charged the woman directly.
The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal heard the psychologist began seeing the woman and her husband individually and jointly in 2016 in his regional Victorian clinic.
The wife attended 13 sessions for marital issues and anxiety, her husband attended seven times and they attended nine sessions together.
The tribunal heard Mr Knobel failed to keep professional boundaries after the woman told him she was sexually attracted to him.
His actions caused “serious adverse consequences” for the woman, referred to by the tribunal as Ms AC, and her husband, Mr ZC, both of whom were “emotionally vulnerable”.
“For a period of time Mr ZC was unknowingly engaging in couples and individual counselling with a man who was in a sexual relationship with his wife,” the tribunal said in its ruling on Tuesday.
“When she gave evidence at the December 2020 hearing, Ms AC exhibited continuing distress about the relationship and the way Mr Knobel brought it to an end.”
Mr Knobel was suspended by the Psychology Board of Australia in 2017 after making a self-notification, but later admitted initially giving false or misleading information about when the relationship with the woman started and its extent.
The tribunal found Mr Knobel engaged in professional misconduct, with the impact on his clients “foreseeable and avoidable”.
The conduct also caused Mr Knobel, who now worked as a teacher, considerable financial and personal hardship.
Mr Knobel had repaid the Medicare rebates he was not entitled to claim following his conduct, which VCAT was told had unfolded amid personal medical, bereavement and family issues.
He had made several apologies, through his lawyers, but the tribunal found he failed to show adequate insight or remorse.
The Psychology Board of Australia requested Mr Knoble’s registration be suspended for three years, but the tribunal reprimanded him and disqualified him for one year, noting he had already been out of practice for well over four years.
“By our determinations, we intend to signal to the profession that serious adverse consequences will follow conduct of the kind that Mr Knobel engaged in so as to deter others from the same conduct, in the interests of maintaining professional standards and public confidence in the profession,” the tribunal said.
Under the Australian Psychological Society’s Code of Ethics, psychologists must take steps to establish and maintain proper professional boundaries with clients and colleagues and refrain from engaging in relationships that may impair their competence, effectiveness, objectivity, or ability to render a psychological service.
They also must not engage in sexual activity with a client or anyone closely related to a client.
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