A Sydney psychologist who had a personal relationship with a patient has been banned from practising for a year.
Julie Ann Catt was suspended from practising as a psychologist for a year from Monday, following a decision in the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal following a case brought on by the Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC).
Catt began seeing the woman as her therapist in 2009, years before a personal relationship began.
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At the time she began seeing her, the patient believed she was suffering from depression and was experiencing night terrors and anger management problems.
In about 2010 or 2011, the patient said she became aware she was experiencing an attraction and feelings for Catt.
In 2012, the pair began sending “flirtatious” emails to each other, including one in which Catt said, “you blow my mind”.
“There’s a saying in the biz: “You do in the room what you do in the world. And that’s why I have all kinds of complicated feelings about being flirtatious with you,” Catt wrote to her patient.
In October 2014, the patient asked to be referred to another therapist.
By the latter half of 2015, the pair expressed strong feelings for each other.
“I’ve fallen in love with you too. That is a very hard sentence for me to write because it is laden with questions and ethical problems,” Catt said in one email.
Between May 2015 and May 2017, after their professional relationship ended, Catt engaged in “sexual activity” with the patient, the HCCC said.
“Catt failed to maintain proper boundaries and let that escalate to a full-blown emotional affair with the patient. The boundary violations, inappropriate communications and emotional affair lasted many years,” the HCCC submitted to the tribunal.
In 2018, Catt told the patient in an email: “I feel like my decision to connect romantically with you, despite my best (and lame) efforts to manage the timing of it all, has been ethically dodgy … I should have waited until the two years was up before I allowed myself to enter into any dialogue with you.”
In March 2019, the patient ended their personal relationship.
In a statement submitted to the tribunal, the patient outlined the impact the relationship had on her.
“I had no idea I was being re-traumatised, rather than loved,” she said.
“By 2021, I felt like I was drowning with the responsibility of protecting Julie and started to feel overwhelming guilt that I had threatened to report her in 2019.
“I felt equally guilty that I had not reported her and that she may do this to another.
“I can’t form any romantic interest or emotional attachment to another person. I often recoil against sexual, physical or emotional advances from people.
“I am squeamish about being hugged or touched in a non-sexual way by friends. I have become cut off from intimacy and feel isolated from society”.
Catt, who had been practising as a psychologist in Sydney for more than two decades, had three complaints filed against her by the HCCC.
Catt admitted most of the allegations made against her and that she was guilty to one count of unsatisfactory professional conduct and one count of professional misconduct.
She denied a second count of unsatisfactory professional conduct, stating some of the details of the complaint are repetitive of those set out in the first complaint.
Catt told the tribunal she agreed the patient was “highly vulnerable” and it would never have been appropriate for her to enter into a personal relationship with her.
Catt opposed an order seeking to cancel her registration, but a decision was made in favour of the HCCC.
“In our assessment of the respondent … we are left with the clear impression that she was, over a period of years, unable to control that aspect of her relationship with the patient, which moved it beyond that which was appropriate,” members of the tribunal said.
“We find that she clearly knew, at all relevant times, when she was inappropriately communicating with Patient A, that she was practising unethically.
“Although she appeared to be holding an opinion that the relationship with Patient A only became unethical when it moved to a physical relationship, we find she cannot reasonably have believed that to be true.”
Catt’s practitioner’s registration as a psychologist was suspended for one year, after which she will be subject to conditions when practising.