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Counsellor Rented Room To Woman In His Care

Deputy Health and Disability Commissioner Kevin Allan today released a report finding a counsellor in breach of the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers’ Rights (the Code) for failing to maintain professional boundaries with a woman in his care.

The woman attended a counselling session with the counsellor and at that appointment they discussed her difficulty with finding housing.

The counsellor offered the woman a room to rent at his home on the basis that she could have no further counselling sessions with him if she accepted. The woman moved into the counsellor’s residence and she received no further care from him or his employer, a support agency.

The counsellor did not inform the support agency of his living arrangement with the woman at that time, or seek supervision or guidance from a colleague about his professional obligations.

Despite the counsellor’s living arrangement with the woman, he documented in his case notes that the woman was moving away and no further counselling was required, and that her file would be closed.

The Deputy Commissioner’s decision emphasises the importance of maintaining professional boundaries as an integral component of the provision of health services, and the significant harm that can be caused by the failure to do so.

Mr Allan considered the counsellor’s offer of accommodation inappropriate, and that he exploited the woman’s vulnerabilities for his own financial gain.

"By failing to maintain appropriate professional boundaries and keep accurate records, and knowingly to record false information, the counsellor did not provide the woman with a safe and supportive service, and failed to comply with the relevant ethical and professional standards," Mr Allan said.

Mr Allan recommended the counsellor undertake training on the Drug and Alcohol Practitioners’ Association Aotearoa-New Zealand’s (DAPAANZ) Code of Ethics. He also recommended that that DAPAANZ conduct a review of the counsellor’s competence and provide a written apology to the woman, which he has done.

Mr Allan was critical that the support agency did not maintain adequate records to keep track of which employees were members of a professional body. He recommended that the support agency conduct an audit of its staff registrations with professional bodies to confirm that its records are accurate and complete, and undertake any remedial actions required.

The full report on case 19HDC01573 is available on the HDC website.

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