Exploring the why of psychologist misconduct and malpractice: a thematic analysis of court decision documents

Paul Kremer, Mark Symmons, Brett Furlonger

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

    3 Citations (Scopus)


    Objective: To identify reasons for misconduct and misconduct amongst Australian psychologists. Method: During the 5-year period from 2008 to 2013, 42 psychologists across 41 cases were found guilty of misconduct and malpractice by civil and administrative courts across Australia. The court decision documents were analysed using Braun and Clarke's () qualitative methodology to explore themes relating to the court's objective, the psychologist's subjective, and the authors' interpretive causal reasons transgressing psychologists engaged in misconduct and malpractice. Results: Explanations given by psychologists for misconduct and malpractice behaviours included the use and abuse of legal and illicit substances, addiction behaviours, and impairment due to mental disorder or unresolved trauma. A number of other reasons identified by the courts and by the authors from the evidence cited in the published court decision documents are also discussed. Possible contributing factors for why misconduct and malpractice behaviours occurred coalesced into three themes: the externalisation of responsibility for personal actions and behaviours, a lack of objectivity concerning why such behaviours occurred, and an inability to understand how personal circumstance affected the provision of ethical services to clients. Conclusion: (a) The complexity of situations and scenarios surrounding psychologist malpractice can be simplified for the benefit of designing interventions by applying Glass' () concept of the "slippery slope." (b) Court records have benefit as detailed data, but could be augmented for greater value with a simple and easily completed additional coversheet of background and demographic data.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)454-463
    Number of pages10
    JournalAustralian Psychologist
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - Oct 2018


    • Australia
    • Court
    • Ethics
    • Malpractice
    • Misconduct
    • Psychologist

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