Church psychologist cautioned over conduct

THE Catholic Church’s Melbourne psychologist had engaged in ”unprofessional conduct” when counselling a victim of clergy abuse, the Psychology Board of Australia has found.

Peter O’Callaghan, QC, the independent commissioner of the Melbourne archdiocese’s internal complaints process for victims, Melbourne Response, refers victims to Carelink to arrange counselling and professional support.

Susan Sharkey, co-ordinator of Carelink, discussed her own personal life with a victim, Noreen Wood, failed to prepare treatment and breached her privacy in counselling sessions with her over a year, the board’s professional standards panel said in its decision, obtained by Fairfax Media. Ms Sharkey denied that the 35 meetings, which took place at restaurants and cafes between 2004 and 2005, were counselling sessions, saying they had been to support Ms Wood until she found a suitable therapist.

”The panel considers that Ms Sharkey did counsel as alleged and should have recognised that that was what she was doing,” the panel said.

”Ms Sharkey has continually denied that she was counselling, but the panel has no doubt that is exactly what she was doing and that she was doing it inappropriately.”

The Jesuit order of the Catholic Church paid for the sessions after Ms Sharkey sent them a bill on her private practice stationery, calling them ”counselling sessions”.

Ms Wood said she did not feel vindicated by the decision ”because this situation should never have happened”.

She said she began seeing Ms Sharkey regularly because of her complaint with the Catholic Church. The Jesuit order, then not subject to the Melbourne Response, would not listen to her complaint before her settlement with the order in 2003.

”Originally, I was bewildered as to why she was taking me weekly for lunches, but then I just gathered that it would fit into her timetable.

”I wasn’t overly perturbed. You’ve got to understand that when you’ve got a lot of issues you’re not thinking.”

The Psychology Board has cautioned Ms Sharkey and allowed her to continue to be registered as a psychologist, but only if she is supervised weekly for the next 12 months by a senior clinical psychologist or a senior counselling psychologist at her own expense.

A spokesman for the archdiocese said Ms Sharkey was ”confident she has acted professionally at all times”.

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