The client/patient and psychologist therapy relationship is based on respect and trust. Psychologists are responsible for understanding relationship dynamics and responding to individuals in their care in an appropriate and professional manner.
In British Columbia, psychologists are regulated by law under the Health Professions Act (HPA) and are bound by the Code of Conduct of the College of Psychologists of BC. The Code contains clear standards regarding the registrant’s responsibility for professional behavior, including specific prohibitions against sexual harassment and sexual contact with clients/patients, research subjects, supervisees, or employees (see sections 1.2, 4.18, 5.14 and 5.28). The College of Psychologists of BC has a zero tolerance policy towards registrants having sex with clients.
Sexual misconduct includes behaviours such as:
- Sexually suggestive remarks, sexual propositions, demeaning sexual comments
- Sexual touching such as hugging, petting, fondling, and kissing
- Sexual intercourse and other forms of physical sexual relations
Sexual misconduct does not include behaviour and remarks by a registrant to a patient that are of a clinical nature appropriate to the service being provided.
Sexual misconduct is an abuse of power and a serious violation of the relationship of trust between a psychologist and client/patient, research subject, supervisee, or employee.
An individual who has believes they have experienced a sexual violation by a registered psychologist is urged to file a complaint by calling the College at 604.736.6164 (select option #3) or filing a written complaint.
Duty to Report
Section 32.4 of the Health Professions Act requires a registered psychologist who has reasonable and probable grounds to believe a registered health professional has engaged in sexual misconduct to report that to the appropriate regulatory college. There may be consent requirements related to this obligation [see s. 32.4(2)] and a registrant with questions regarding their duty to report sexual misconduct should contact the Practice Support Line.
Sexual harassment and unwanted sexual contact are prohibited under the Canadian Human Rights Act and the BC Human Rights Code.
WARNING SIGNS of Sexual Misconduct
Some sexual misconduct is flagrant, such as sexualized physical contact or receiving obscene images or messages by text message, but in many sexual misconduct cases more subtle or confusing inappropriate behaviour is evident. Some clues or warning signs are:
- Excessive out-of-session communication (e.g., text, phone, email, social media, etc.) not related to therapy.
- Inviting a client to lunch, dinner, or other social and professional activities.
- Changing the office’s typical business practices (e.g., scheduling late appointments when no one is around, having sessions away from the office, etc.).
- Confiding in a client (e.g., about the therapist’s love life, work problems, loneliness, marital problems, etc.).
- Telling a client that he or she is special, or that the therapist loves him or her.
- Relying on a client for personal and emotional support.
- Giving or receiving significant gifts.
- Suggesting or supporting the client’s isolation from social support systems, increasing dependency on the therapist.
- Providing or using alcohol or drugs during sessions.
If you are experiencing any of these warning signs, you have the right to file a complaint with the College.