College of Psychologists of Ontario Defence Lawyers

Psychologists, like many professionals in Canada, must be adequately educated, licensed and regulated by the province in which they practice. Each province regulates their professionals in their own way.

Each province in Canada is responsible for regulating the professionals working within that province. In Ontario, the College of Psychologists is responsible for regulating the practice of psychology and oversees psychological practitioners, psychologists and psychological associates by protecting public interest through the monitoring and regulation of the practice of psychology. Psychologists and psychological associates in Ontario are regulated by the Regulated Health Professions Act, 1991, the Psychology Act, 1991 (which includes the Professional Misconduct Regulation) and the Standards of Professional Conduct, 2017. The College of Psychologists of Ontario is overseen by the Council, which  is comprised of 10 professional members that are elected or appointed by the profession, as well as 5 to 8 members of the public who are selected by the Lieutenant Governor in Council.

There are several responsibilities that the College of Psychologists of Ontario have, including: establishing requirements for practice and administering examinations, registering qualified psychologists, setting out practice and ethical standards, implementing the Quality Assurance program, educating the public about the practice of psychology and investigating and addressing issues regarding quality of service or certain psychologists.

One of the College of Psychologists of Ontario’s main responsibilities is to address concerns about psychologists and psychological associates. As such, the College of Psychologists of Ontario also accepts formal complaints regarding psychologists and psychological associates and investigates as necessary. If professional misconduct is discovered, the College of Psychologists of Ontario will also be the regulating body responsible for punishing the offending psychologist.

Psychologists in Ontario are regulated by the Regulated Health Professions Act, 1991, the Psychology Act, 1991 (which includes the Professional Misconduct Regulation) and the Standards of Professional Conduct, 2017. The Regulated Health Professions Act, 1991 governs all regulated professions in Ontario, and thus, psychologists must comply with the rules and regulations exalted in the Act. The Psychology Act, 1991 defines the practice of psychology and the acts that are authorized under it. This includes the authorization of a member to communicate a diagnosis of a neurological disorder or psychologically based psychotic, neurotic of personality disorder as well as the ability to treat a disorder of thought, cognition, mood that may severely impair the individual’s judgement and behaviour through a psychotherapy technique delivered through a therapeutic relationship. The Professional Misconduct, made under the Act, sets out conduct by psychologists that would amount to professional misconduct. Some examples of misconduct include: failing to maintain the standards of the profession, abusing a client, practising  the profession while under the influence of any substance, or while suffering from illness or other dysfunction which the member knows or ought to know impairs the member’s ability to practise, discontinuing professional services that are needed unless the client consents or alternative services are available, practising the profession while the psychologist is in a conflict of interest, failing to provide a truthful, understandable and appropriate explanation of the nature of an assessment, intervention/ other service following a client’s request for an explanation or charging excessive fees.

Psychologists in Ontario must also comply with the Personal health Information Protection Act, 2004 which establishes the rules surrounding the collection, use and disclosure of health information and the requirement for health professionals to maintain confidentiality.

Legal Information

Frequently Asked Questions

The Complaint Process
What Happens when a Complaint is Filed?
What Happens at a Discipline Hearing?
What Types of Acts or Omissions Give Rise to Professional Misconduct?
What Penalties can Psychologists Face as a Result of a Complaint?
When Does the College of Psychologists of Ontario have the Ability to Act on a Complaint?
How to Defend a Formal Complaint made to the College of Psychologists of Ontario?
Making a Report to the College of Psychologists of Ontario
Sexual Abuse by Registered Psychologists

The Complaint Process

Psychologists, like any professional, owe a duty of care to their clients. Failure to discharge this duty of care may result in a formal complaint being filed with the College of Psychologists of Ontario against the practicing psychologist. Virtually anyone can raise a complaint about a psychologist. Formal complaints can be filed with the College of Psychologists of Ontario directly through fax, mail or email.

The complaint should include: the name of the psychologist and a statement outlining the complaint with as much detail as possible, the dates and location of service, the reason for the complaint, a description of any efforts that have already been made to address the matter and the names/descriptions of any relevant witnesses. The complainant may also include supporting documents that are relevant to the complaint. There is no time limitation on when a complaint may be filed.

What Happens When a Complaint is Filed?

Once the College of Psychologists of Ontario has received a formal complaint, they will provide the complainant with official acknowledgement within 14 days and inform the psychologist that a complaint has been filed against them, along with a copy of the complaint. The psychologist will then be provided with the opportunity to respond to the complainant. Usually, the College of Psychologists of Ontario will also ask the psychologist to provide a copy of the client’s clinical record to support their response. The complainant will receive the psychologist’s response for review, and will be allowed to provide further response if necessary. Following this exchange, the Inquiries, Complaints and Reports Committee (ICRC) will review the complaint according to the Risk Assessment Framework and consider the correct outcome for the complaint. The Risk Assessment Framework allows the ICRC to consider the impact risks of the psychologists’ actions, such as the potential risks to the client and public trust in and perception of the psychology profession, the recurrence risks, such as the member’s conduct history, practices, processes and/or systems, and awareness of the identified practice concerns. For a more detailed look at the Risk Assessment Framework referenced by the ICRC, a full table can be found on the College of Psychologists of Ontario website.

Following the investigation of the ICRC after receiving a complaint or report, the courses of action available are:

  1. No further action: The ICRC may choose to take no action if the psychologist’s conduct does not pose a risk to the public
  2. Advice: Where low risk is identified, the ICRC may advise the psychologist on ways to avoid future risks
  3. Undertaking: Where moderate risk is identified, the ICRC may instruct the psychologist to adopt a change in practice or seek the guidance of a mentor
  4. Caution: Where a moderate risk is identified, the psychologist may be called to receive caution from the College of Psychologists of Ontario in person. This may include a discussion between the ICRC and the psychologist.
  5. Specified Continuing Education or Remediation Program (SCERP): Where moderate risk is identified, SCERP will be ordered to ensure the psychologist receive a specific course of study.
  6. Referral to the Discipline Committee: Where high risk is identified, the ICRC will refer the complaint for the Discipline Committee for a full hearing.

The Inquiries, Complaints and Reports is comprised of experienced psychologists, members of the public and is chaired by a representative from the College Council. The Council will review all of the evidence, analyze the seriousness of the allegations and also consider past decisions of the Council regarding the psychologist who is the subject of the complaint. Based on all of this evidence,  the Council will make a decision on whether or not the psychologist is guilty of professional misconduct. The Council has several options available to them regarding how they may handle a complaint. If, upon review the Council finds that no misconduct has occurred, they may close the file without any further action. If the Council finds that misconduct has or may have occurred but is not serious enough to call for formal discipline, they may offer formal advice to the psychologist regarding how they could improve their practice, require the psychologist to appear in front of the Council to be formally cautioned about their behaviour or require that the psychologist complete a Remediation Program. Finally, if the Council determines that serious professional misconduct has occurred, they may forward the file to the Discipline Committee for further review. If the file is forwarded to the Discipline Committee, the psychologist will be required to appear in front of that Committee for a discipline hearing. Whatever the outcome of the hearing is, the psychologist will receive a full copy of the Councils decision and their reasoning behind it.

It is important to note that a finding of professional misconduct can have very serious implications on a psychologists ability to practice. Once a member becomes aware that a complaint has been filed, they are advised to contact qualified legal counsel as soon as possible. All members of the College or Psychologists of Ontario are entitled to have legal counsel present during all stages of the complaint process. Our Firm can help guide you through this process to ensure you receive the best outcome in your case.

What Happens at a Discipline Hearing?

If a complaint investigation has been sent to the Discipline Committee, the psychologist who has been accused will be required to appear at a public discipline hearing. This hearing operates in much the same way as a court of law and will be a formal legal process wherein evidence will be adduced under oath, and witnesses may be subject to examination and cross-examination. Both parties, the complainant and the College of Psychologists of Ontario, will usually be represented by legal counsel. The Discipline Committee will also typically retain its own legal advisor independent of the College of Psychologists of Ontario and the psychologist. The Discipline Committee will follow the Rules of Procedure which lays out the process of the disciplinary hearing as well as the formalities and regulations surrounding it.

After all of the evidence has been presented at the hearing, the panel will come to a decision. There are several courses of action the Committee may take including: revocation of the member’s certificate of registration, suspension of the member’s certificate of registration, imposition of terms, conditions and limitations on the psychologist’s certificate of registration, reprimanding the psychologist or ordering a fine payable to the government of Ontario. The College of Psychologists of Ontario may also provide the Committee with alternative outcomes, such as ordering the psychologist to participate in educational or coaching programs.

What Types of Acts or Omissions Give Rise to Professional Misconduct Complaints?

There are many different reasons a client may wish to file a formal complaint against their psychologist. Some examples include:

  • Failing to maintain the standards of the profession
  • Abusing a client
  • Practising the profession while under the influence of any substance, or while suffering from illness or other dysfunction which the member knows or ought to know impairs the member’s ability to practise
  • Discontinuing professional services that are needed unless the client consents or alternative services are available
  • Practising the profession while the psychologist is in a conflict of interest
  • Failing to provide a truthful, understandable and appropriate explanation of the nature of an assessment, intervention, or other service following a client’s request for an explanation
  • Charging excessive fees.

What Penalties can Psychologists Face as a Result of a Complaint?

As noted in previous sections, there are several courses of action the Committee may take including: revocation of the member’s certificate of registration, suspension of the member’s certificate of registration, imposition of terms, conditions and limitations on the psychologist’s certificate of registration, reprimanding the psychologist or ordering a fine payable to the government of Ontario. The College of Psychologists of Ontario may also provide the Committee with alternative outcomes, such as ordering the psychologist to participate in educational or coaching programs.

When does the College of Psychologists of Ontario Not Have the Ability to Act on a Complaint?

There are a number of situations that College of Psychologists of Ontario is unable to address. The College of Psychologists of Ontario cannot deal with complaints against members of other regulatory colleges, nor can they address complaints made against unregulated practitioners. Further, the College of Psychologists of Ontario is not authorized to obtain funds from a member as a result of a financial loss suffered, any employment or labour relation’s issues that are not addressed by professional standards or laws that govern the practice of psychology. Lastly, the College of Psychologists of Ontario may not substitute its judgement for the professional judgement of a psychologist nor can it order a psychologist to alter their professional opinion or report.

How to Defend a Formal Complaint made to the College of Psychologists of Ontario

As with any legal matter, the best defence for a psychologist facing a complaint will depend on the allegations being made and the distinct facts of the case. It is important to contact qualified legal counsel as soon as possible upon receiving notice that a formal complaint has been filed. In some cases, the allegations against the psychologist will be unfounded, or will not amount to professional misconduct. In these cases, the psychologist may state that they have not violated any of the rules or regulations surrounding the practice of psychology on Ontario. However, where a more detailed response is needed, a common way to defend an allegation of professional is to argue that the psychologist properly adhered to the duty of care required of him/her. This means that the psychologist did everything that was necessary and appropriate in the circumstances and has not committed at acts that violate the legislation, rules and regulations that govern psychologists in Ontario. Whatever the case may be, the most ideal plan of defence is to contact qualified legal counsel as soon as possible to assist in drafting a response to the particular complaint that has been file.

Making a Report to the College of Psychologists of Ontario

The College of Psychologists of Ontario provides an alternative route for those who do not want to lodge a formal complaint, but would still like to bring a concern to the College’s attention. Where a report is made, the Registrar will review the information and decide how to proceed. Unlike a complainant, a reporter would not have to be involved in the investigation, but would also not be privy to any additional information about the matter, its outcome, nor is there an opportunity to seek a review of the decision reached. In order the file a report, the reporter must fill out a Report form containing details of the complaint and any additional information to support the complaint. After the written report has been submitted, a Case Manager may contact the reporter for more information or clarify any issues. However, after this, the reporter will not be able to receive any further information regarding the report.

Sexual Abuse by Registered Psychologist

The College of Psychologists of Ontario has a zero tolerance policy regarding sexual assault and abuse by psychologists against their clients. If a client has experienced sexual abuse by a psychologist, they may raise a complaint with the College of Psychologists of Ontario, who may also provide funding for therapy or counselling to eligible clients who allege sexual abuse by psychologists.

416-DEFENCE | 416-333-3623