A female counsellor started an “intimate relationship” with a prisoner in his late 20s who had been sexually abused as a teenage boy in state care.
The counsellor has been found in breach of the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers’ Rights for the “inappropriate” behaviour.
Deputy Health and Disability Commissioner Kevin Allan, who today released a report on the investigation, slammed the counsellor, saying there was a power imbalance between prisoners and health providers and it’s crucial professional boundaries and ethical standards were maintained.
Not only did the counsellor exchange intimate phone conversations, she also visited him in prison and sent him gifts and money.
The man was in prison for a “violent offence”, but the report does not specify further. Names have not been included in the report.
Between January and April 2018, the man telephoned the counsellor on 56 occasions. Parts of the recorded conversation was included in the report:
Counsellor: “Hello beautiful man”.
“I wonder if they will let me see you even though you’ve only arrived the day before … well I’m going to try.”
Counsellor: “I’d love to get you into a room for 24 hours and bloody get you into shape,”
Prisoner: “It won’t take 24 hours to get me into shape.”
Counsellor: “The kind of shape I am talking about it will,” and they both laughed.
Counsellor: “I am fucking so stubborn you’ve got no idea.”
Prisoner: “I love it”
Counsellor: “You’ve met your match and then some”
Prisoner: “… and then some. Whoa that’s good.”
Counsellor: “A bit of life experience.”
Counsellor: “Take care beautiful man.”
Later in the evening, the prisoner rang the counsellor to say goodnight. They discussed a reading from a book, and she ended the call saying: “Nighty night beautiful man”.
The counsellor told HDC that towards the end of the call, he said “You know I love you”, and she responded with, “I love you too”. This exchange was not heard by HDC in the recordings.
She told HDC that it was clear in her interactions with the prisoner that he was deeply embedded in his Māori culture, and so she adjusted her therapeutic interventions accordingly.
The counsellor said, in the report, that at all times she had taken responsibility, and acknowledged the way she responded to the prisoner’s statement that he loved her was not appropriate.
It was open to interpretation by others in ways other than the way that she and the prisoner both knew it was made and intended, she said.
A clinical manager at the prison found out about the relationship and complained to officials, including the Health and Disability Commission (HDC).
Corrections said in the report that any allegations of inappropriate behaviour between a staff member, contractor, visitor or otherwise, with individuals in prison are taken seriously.
They said: “We acknowledge the power imbalance that such a context provides and are acutely aware of the safety risk to all parties involved.”
The report suggests the counsellor is no longer working for Corrections.
The Deputy Commissioner said should the counsellor return to work, the New Zealand Association of Counsellors require her to undertake further training on ethical and boundary issues, and that she be regularly mentored by someone selected by the association.
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