This paper analyses social, ethical and legal issues within a complaint initiated by the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) against a psychologist, Steven Kreft (HCCC v Kreft, 2011). The HCCC investigated a complaint by a client of Kreft of personal and sexual disclosures, as well as unprofessional treatment in the solicitation of a photograph of the client in which the client was dressed in underwear. Kreft’s actions are assessed in light of professional and ethical standards as well as potential breaches of the law. Steven Kreft, was an experienced psychologist narrowly specialising in the treatment of men with anxiety conditions using cognitive-behavioural therapy (HCCC v Kreft, 2011). The client, a 19-year-old married woman, was referred to Kreft because of anxiety and possibly panic attacks, but during the initial stages of counselling, she raised relationship problems, her appearance and sexual needs and practices with him and these became the focus of their sessions. Kreft conveyed to the client that he was not experienced or skilled in the treatment of relationship problems or sexual disorders, however, the client stated that she wished to continue working with him and he did not insist on referring her elsewhere. The client ultimately accused Kreft of failing to observe proper professional boundaries and engaging in inappropriate discussions of a personal nature in which he: Complimented her on her appearance referring to her petite size, short height and thin build, and likened her to his girlfriend; Commented on her wearing Bonds underwear like his girlfriend wore; Asked the client to comment on his physical appearance;
Disclosed details of his personal life including the number of sexual partners he had had, that his girlfriend would share a bed with other girlfriends when they slept over, that he had been in love numerous times, and that he had thought about homosexuality during his youth (HCCC v Kreft, 2011). In addition, Kreft was accused of failing to follow or observe appropriate therapeutic practice and/or failing to observe proper professional boundaries when he asked the client for photographs for a study in which other people would rate the client’s appearance. One of these photographs pictured the client dressed in underwear. Kreft copied these photographs onto his own computer for later presentation to unnamed others. This exercise was not recorded in the client’s clinical notes (HCCC v Kreft, 2011). The HCCC investigated the client’s complaints and took disciplinary action against him. There are numerous social, ethical and legal issues in this case. Although Kreft was in fact a psychologist, for the purpose of this paper, his conduct will be assessed against the Australian Counselling Association’s Code of Ethics and Practice (2012). This paper will explore the power imbalance between Kreft and his client, the effect of his behaviour on the therapeutic relationship and whether Kreft’s behaviour might have breached sexual harassment laws. Ethical and legal guidelines exist to offer protection to people who may experience harm as a result of the actions of another person. According to Welfel (2013, p.3), professional ethics in counselling encompasses five dimensions of behaviour including having sufficient knowledge, skill and judgement; respecting the client’s human dignity and freedom; using a counsellor’s inherent power responsibly; and, acting to promote public confidence in the counselling profession. This provides a useful framework for assessing Kreft’s conduct in this case. Beginning with Kreft’s expertise, Kreft usually used a strict cognitive-behavioural protocol for the management of anxiety and panic disorders. Kreft is described by his own treating psychiatrist as a skilled practitioner in a narrow field, having been trained to think rationally and logically. Kreft’s practice “involved administering protocols, carrying out logic-based interventions and requires his patients...
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