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Prevalence, Prediction, and Prevention of Psychologist Misconduct


Brin Grenyer, School of Psychology, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, NSW 2522, Australia. Fax: +61-2-42214163; email:


Studies of psychologist misconduct generally focus on unethical sexual behaviours. In contrast, the following study reports on all complaints by the public against psychologists reported to the New South Wales Psychologists Registration Board over a 4-year period. There were 248 independent notifications of misconduct about 224 registered psychologists, out of a total sample of 9,489 registered psychologists. The most frequent type of misconduct reported was in relation to poor communication standards (35.5%). Other complaints were in relation to professional incompetency (16.5%), poor report writing (14.1%), poor business practices (12.5%), boundary violations (9.7%), poor character (5.6%), registration status (3.2%), impairment (1.6%), and the inappropriate use of specialist titles (1.2%). Males were 2.5 times more likely to have a misconduct complaint made about them than females. Senior highly qualified psychologists attracted a greater number of complaints, but these were generally of a less serious nature. Over a 30-year career, about 20 out of every 100 psychologists can expect to receive a complaint from the public, and two will receive a serious misconduct complaint that might lead to deregistration. Strategies for preventing malpractice arising from these results include regular peer consultation, developing quality practise standards, and maintaining professional boundaries.