Psychologist had sexual relationship with ’emotional and teary’ client

A Victorian psychologist who had a sexual relationship with a client being treated for depression and addiction has been disqualified from registration for at least six months.

David Griersmith, who practised in Mt Eliza, was reprimanded and found guilty of multiple occurrences of professional misconduct, including starting a relationship with a client before ceasing professional treatment of her.

In a decision published this month by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, it was revealed that the client, referred to as Ms A, first met Mr Griersmith in July 2013 seeking treatment for anxiety, depression, alcohol problems and gambling addiction.

The Australian Psychological Society code of ethics prohibits psychologists from having sex with a former patient for at least two years after the professional relationship has ended. Even then, it must be discussed with a senior psychologist.

After Mr Griersmith stopped treating his client, a relationship continued in which the pair travelled overseas to India and Malaysia. At times Mr Griersmith kept possession of Ms A’s bank cards to help her control her gambling habit.

Ms A later revealed to a second psychologist that her relationship with Mr Griersmith, which ended in January 2015, was causing her “distress”, the tribunal heard.

Upon discovering Ms A’s partner had also been her therapist, the second psychologist reported Mr Griersmith to the Psychology Board of Australia, prompting an investigation.

Psychologists are required under Health Practitioner Regulation National Law to report any “sexual misconduct in connection with the practice of the practitioner’s profession”.

Between July 2013 and April 2014 Ms A had 44 consultations with Mr Griersmith.

An investigation by the Psychology Board of Australia found Mr Griersmith’s own consultation notes and correspondence about Ms A described her condition as “severe and complex”, and that she was dealing with “major issues” which caused her to be “constantly emotional and teary”.

During her treatment in early 2014, Mr Griersmith explained to Ms A that personal relationships between psychologists and their clients were prohibited, the tribunal heard.

But by their final session in April 2014, a personal relationship between the pair had begun. It continued until January the following year.

It took until September 2017, about 18 months after the board was notified, for it to officially suspend Mr Griersmith’s registration.

Mr Griersmith described his conduct as “a grave and serious error of judgment” in his submissions to the board and said he was ashamed at having betrayed his client’s trust.

“My conduct was very serious in its consequences, and I am deeply ashamed and remorseful regarding my behaviour,” one statement said.

“The entire matter has been a source of intense distress, anguish and sickening trauma for me with negative consequences on my life and relationships. I will not go through it again.

“I have taken steps to ensure no recurrence and maintain professional standards expected of me.”

Tribunal members warned in their final decision that relationships between psychologists and clients are “likely to cause harm” and are “exploitative”.

“This tribunal (and others) have repeatedly warned psychologists that personal relationships with clients during and within two years of a professional relationship are unacceptable and are likely to draw significant consequences for a psychologist’s practice,” it said.

It also found Mr Griersmith failed to seek professional supervision in managing his relationship with Ms A, and misled medical practitioners in failing to note the existence of his relationship with her.

In handing down Mr Griersmith’s six-month disqualification, the tribunal said it took into consideration the 15 months he had already been out of practice.

Mr Griersmith is disqualified from applying for registration as a registered health practitioner until June 18 this year.