Preventing and Addressing Sexual Abuse and Sexual Misconduct for Psychologists

Health Professions Act Amendments (2018)

Bill 21: An Act to Protect Patients


Sexual Abuse And Sexual Misconduct

Registered provisional psychologists and registered psychologists (hereinafter referred to as “psychologists”) are in a position of trust/authority by virtue of having professional knowledge and skills that a client/patient may rely on for their well-being. This leads to a power imbalance. Ultimately, the client/patient is not believed to ever be in a position that would allow them to provide full and true consent to any form of sexual activity. As a result, psychologists must maintain professional boundaries with their client/patient at all times. They are prohibited from engaging in any form of sexual abuse or sexual misconduct with a client/patient as defined by the Health Professions Act.

What Is Sexual Abuse And Sexual Misconduct?

Sexual abuse is defined by the Health Professions Act as the “threatened, attempted or actual conduct of a regulated member towards a patient that is of a sexual nature.”

Sexual misconduct is defined by the Health Professions Act as “any incident or repeated incidents of objectionable or unwelcome conduct, behaviour or remarks of a sexual nature by a regulated member towards a patient that the regulated member knows or ought reasonably to know will or would cause offence or humiliation to the patient or adversely affect the patient’s health and well-being but does not include sexual abuse.”

Who Is A Patient?

In brief, the College of Alberta Psychologists’ (CAP) Standards of Practice section 2.3 defines a patient as a recipient of professional services, including, but not limited to:

2.3.1  an individual and, where applicable, a legal guardian or substitute decision-maker; 

2.3.2  a couple, family, community, peoples, persons or other groups;

2.3.3  contract examinees, research participants, students, trainees, supervisees and any other individuals or groups with whom psychologists come into contact in a professional capacity;

2.3.5  former client/patient;

2.3.6  a corporate entity or organization.

To read the full definition of a patient, please read section 2.3 of the CAP Standards of Practice. CAP's Standards of Practice outlines the expectation for psychologists in the therapeutic and professional relationship including prohibiting sexual relationships with current and former clients/patients.

Do You Think A Psychologist May Have Violated A Sexual Boundary?

CAP recognizes that coming forward with a complaint about sexual abuse or sexual misconduct is often very difficult. All complaints, including those of sexual abuse or sexual misconduct are considered serious. You may call CAP for assistance or to make a complaint knowing that all our staff have received trauma informed training.

For more information call 780.424.5070 and ask to speak to someone in the complaints department. Learn more about the complaint process by clicking here.

Complaints of a sexual nature may involve:

  • Inappropriate comments or gestures: This could include saying something sexually suggestive or seductive to a client/patient, commenting unnecessarily about sexual relationships or sexual orientation, making sexually insulting or offensive comments or jokes, or giving unwanted attention like kissing and excessive/intimate hugging.
  • Sexual contact or assault: This encompasses everything from inappropriate touching to sexual assault. It also includes any sexual contact between a psychologist and client/patient that would otherwise be considered consensual.
  • Sexual relationships: Even if a psychologist and a client/patient (as defined by CAP’s Standards of Practice) agree to have a sexual relationship, this constitutes sexual abuse since legally there can be no true consent to a sexual relationship between a psychologist and a client/patient.

Why Report?

Coming forward about a sexually inappropriate encounter can be incredibly difficult, however there are good reasons for reporting:

Public protection

Incidents of sexual abuse are often not isolated. Coming forward could mean preventing a similar incident from occurring in the future.

Awareness

CAP frequently relies on the client/patient to make us aware when things aren’t right. We can only learn abut sexual abuse/misconduct from people who make complaints.

A sense of closure

Knowing that there is an investigation and potential consequences may play a role in the healing process.

Funding For Therapy And Counselling

CAP established a Patient Relations Program to support patients who come forward with complaints of sexual abuse or sexual misconduct with funding for therapy or counselling.

Accessing Therapy and Counselling Funding:

Filing a complaint with CAP related to sexual abuse or sexual misconduct entitles the client/patient to receive funding within the parameters of CAP’s Patient Relations Program.

To learn more about funding for counselling or therapy, please contact CAP’s complaints department at 780.424.5070. Clients/patients may also wish to contact Health Link Alberta for current resources to support them. For additional support services available in Alberta, please visit Sexual Assault Services in Alberta.

Related Information

Complaint Process

Find more information on CAP’s complaint process. CAP investigates all complaints of sexual abuse and sexual misconduct.

Learn More

File a Complaint

Make a complaint about an Alberta psychologist to CAP by using our Complaint Reporting Form.

File Complaint

Patient Alert

Read CAP’s Client/Patient Alert: Sexual Contact with Patients (Clients) is Always Wrong.

Read Now

Practice Guideline

Read CAP's Practice Guideline: Preventing and Addressing Sexual Abuse and Misconduct.

Read Now

CAP Monitor #58

Read CAP's special issue of The CAP Monitor: Preventing and Addressing Sexual Abuse and Misconduct.

View Issue

Mandatory Training

CAP has developed multiple resources to support the training of psychologists. This link is available to the public as well as CAP members and staff.

More Info

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Sexual Abuse/Misconduct

Addressing and Preventing Sexual Abuse and Misconduct for Psychologists