Professional misconduct of a psychologist

Mr Jacobus Biersteker was registered as both a psychologist and nurse, and offered counselling services in a community in regional NSW. As a registered psychologist, he was bound by the relevant code of conduct and, as a member of the Australian Psychological Society, subject to that organisation’s code of ethics.

In 2001, Mr Biersteker started treating a woman for depression. The woman had been referred to Mr Biersteker by her husband, who also referred his son to Mr Biersteker for counselling.

After the woman had been receiving counselling from Mr Biersteker for some time, the woman’s husband suggested that she should see a female psychologist instead. This suggestion was opposed by Mr Biersteker, who continued to treat the woman.

Some time later, the woman’s husband discovered letters and poems to his wife from Mr Biersteker. When the husband confronted his wife about this, she admitted to having a sexual relationship with Mr Biersteker that had started during a counselling session in 2001. The husband’s discovery of the relationship between his wife and Mr Biersteker led to the termination of the counselling.

The husband was concerned about another woman whom he had referred to Mr Biersteker, and made a complaint about Mr Biersteker’s conduct to the Commission.

The Commission’s investigation of the complaint led to the Director of Proceedings initiating disciplinary proceedings against Mr Biersteker before the Psychologists Tribunal. The Director’s formal complaint alleged that Mr Biersteker had been guilty of professional misconduct and sought an order for his deregistration as a psychologist.

In April 2007, the Tribunal found the complaint proved and decided to deregister Mr Biersteker as a psychologist for two years.

The Commission also sought a prohibition order that would prevent Mr Biersteker from providing any mental health services or practising as a mental health nurse during the time that he was deregistered as a psychologist.

The Tribunal decided to make such an order on the basis that Mr Biersteker posed ‘a substantial risk to the health of members of the public.’ Mr Biersteker was also required to disclose the Tribunal’s prohibition order to any potential patient or employer.

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