On 24 April 2019, the New South Wales Civil and Administrative Tribunal (the Tribunal) found a former registered psychologist, Daniel Rouse-Stanton, engaged in professional misconduct by breaching professional boundaries and engaging in improper sexual contact with two female patients.
The practitioner was first registered as a psychologist under the name Daniel Stanton in 2005. He completed a further Maters of Psychology (Forensic) in 2009. The practitioner claimed to have a qualification in massage therapy, but could not remember when he achieved it, or from what institution.
Sometime after 2011 the practitioner began using his current name Daniel Rouse-Stanton. After 10 years practice within the Department of Corrective Services, the practitioner entered private practice in 2014. In his career the practitioner has specialised in the treatment of sex offenders.
The proceedings concern the practitioner’s sexual misconduct with two female patients, Patient A in September and October 2014 and Patient B in March 2016.
Patient A consulted the practitioner about workplace and marital difficulties. The conduct with Patient A comprised the following detail:
- At the time the practitioner had both a psychology practice and a massage business;
- Patient A contacted the practitioner about his massage services through Facebook;
- The practitioner engaged in a series of increasingly sexualised text and Facebook messages regarding a proposed massage;
- On 28 September 2014, during a psychology session the practitioner instigated an unplanned massage during which the Patient was partially unclad and her breasts exposed;
- Following that session, the practitioner sent a series of messages concerning a proposed ‘sensuous and indulgent’ future massage; and
- The Patient sent a text message indicating that she now felt uncomfortable and wished to cancel her scheduled massage, the practitioner invited her to meet him in a sauna to discuss.
When the practitioner learned of the Patient’s complaint, he attended his GP and presented to Shellharbour Hospital where he was prescribed medication and began seeing a psychiatrist. The Psychology Council held a meeting to review the practitioner’s conduct but did not have access to the text messages between the two. The practitioner gave a “false and self-serving account of what occurred” and following an undertaking not to perform massage therapy in future the Council decided not to take any immediate action for the safety of the public. Patient B consulted the practitioner between April 2015 and March 2016 about depression and domestic abuse. The conduct with Patient B comprised the following detail:
- In March 2016, a friend of Patient B showed Patient B a picture of a man she met on a ‘casual dating and hook up’ site, which Patient B recognised as the practitioner;
- The friend of Patient B subsequently engaged in sexual relations with the practitioner;
- Patient B’s sister then engaged in a series of sexualised text messages with the practitioner;
- The practitioner, in a consultation with Patient B, discussed the use of the dating site and did not record or disclose it;
- The practitioner and Patient B engaged in a series of sexualised text messages the following week before meeting for a pre-arranged sexual encounter; and
- Patient B advised that she felt uncomfortable about the incident and in response the practitioner advised he had resigned from the psychology practice and attempted to dissuade her from making a formal complaint.
The practitioner went to his GP and was subsequently admitted as an involuntary patient at the Shellharbour Hospital and diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. In February 2017 the practitioner’s registration lapsed. At the present time the practitioner works as a personal trainer.
Categorisation of the conduct
The Tribunal considered evidence which included a peer expert report and a report of an independent medical examination of the practitioner. The peer expert report was strongly critical of the practitioner’s conduct and opined that it fell significantly below the required standard. The medical examination report noted that his condition would have been highly likely to impact the practitioner’s conduct. The practitioner conceded all bar one of the particulars of the complaint amounted to professional misconduct. The Tribunal found that the practitioner was a poor witness, with limited recollection of important events. He gave evidence that contradicted his own admissions, the evidence of other witnesses and documentary evidence. The Tribunal further considered the conduct as proved constituted a grievous abuse of the therapeutic relationship and trust placed in psychologists to care for and treat their patients. The Tribunal was also strongly critical of the attempts to dissuade the Patients from making a complaint. The attempts to dissuade them from making a complaint referred to his mental health in terms that referenced suicidality and hospitalisation. The Tribunal reached the conclusion that the conduct was of such inherent seriousness as to be professional misconduct because of the inherent power imbalance, and the vulnerable nature of the practitioner’s clientele. With regard to the medical examination report the Tribunal formed a different conclusion. In its assessment of the evidence it concluded the practitioner’s conduct was calculated and pre-meditated not impulsive.
The Tribunal made the following orders:
- Pursuant to a finding of professional misconduct, under s 149C(4)(a), the Tribunal would have cancelled the practitioner’s registration as a psychologist if he had still been registered;
- The National Board is required to record the fact that the Tribunal would have cancelled the practitioner’s registration had he still been registered per s 149C(4)(c);
- The practitioner may not apply for a review of these orders for a period of 3 years from the date of the orders per s 149C(4)(b);
- Pursuant to s 149C(5A) of the National Law, the practitioner is prohibited from providing any health services as defined by s 4 of the Health Care Complaints Act 1993 (NSW), whether on a paid or voluntary basis, until such time as this Tribunal orders that he may re-register as a psychologist;
- The respondent to pay the applicant’s costs of these proceedings as agreed or as assessed under the Legal Profession Uniform Law Application Act 2014 (NSW);
- Pursuant to s 64 of the Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 2013 (NSW) a prohibition on the disclosure or publication of the names of Patients A and B, listed in the schedule to the complaint, and of all other patients identified in the evidence.