Date of Award

2015

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Psychology and Social Science

Faculty

Faculty of Health, Engineering and Science

First Advisor

Professor Alfred Allan

Second Advisor

Dr Ricks Allan

Abstract

The phrase fit and proper is used in the Health Practitioners Regulation National Law Act (Qld), 2009, which came into effect nationally in 2010 and governs psychologists. As with previous legislation that used the phrase, the legislator does not define fit and proper, leaving it up to each profession to determine its exact meaning and inform the courts accordingly. A review of the literature established that to date no Australian psychologist has attempted to define the construct. This means that Australian lawyers do not get any guidance from psychologists regarding how they should interpret the phrase fit and proper in relation to psychologists. Ideally, however, the beliefs of psychologists as a group should inform any definition of what constitutes a fit and proper psychologist. In the absence of such research, the purpose of this study was to determine Australian psychologists’ understanding of the construct.

During Stage One, semi-structured interviews with 16 Western Australian psychologists explored what they considered constituted a fit and proper psychologist. Using a grounded theory approach, the data analysis revealed 2 superordinate components to fitness and propriety. Participants believed that a fit and proper psychologist had 11 person features. These person features could be split into 3 categories, namely capability, character, and conduct. The second component, termed system issues contained the categories of selection and screening, monitoring, regulation, and prevention and remediation.

The aim with Stage Two was to determine whether other Australian psychologists agreed that the 11 person features described a fit and proper psychologist, and if they did, how they ranked them. A cognitive interviewing strategy was employed to add rigour to the design of a questionnaire and to provide confirmation of the person features constructed from the Stage One interviews. The cognitive interview process established that 2 of the original 11 person features were too broad. As a result, both of these features were split into two, giving a total of thirteen person features that were included in the questionnaire. A representative sample of 226 Australian psychologists completed the questionnaire that collected both qualitative and quantitative data. Participants classified 8 features as critically important and 5 as important features of a fit and proper psychologist, with self-awareness ranked as the most important feature.

An analysis of the qualitative data revealed a third superordinate component, termed moderators. Moderators, such as impact on practice, alter each person feature from a black and white concept to a nuanced and more complex one. Moderators build flexibility into the person features and allow for the role of each in fitness and propriety to alter according to a psychologist’s life stage and circumstance.

Australian psychologists believe that a fit and proper psychologist exists in a professional system comprising psychologists themselves and bodies that perform a variety of functions related to the establishment, development, and regulation of standards in the profession. A fit and proper psychologist possesses 13 key person features that can be maintained because of moderating factors. This understanding has implications for psychologists, service users, regulators, and the judiciary.

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