A Lethbridge psychologist will be eligible to resume his practice next month after a four-month suspension.
Registered psychologist Zac Rhodenizer was suspended from practice by the College of Alberta Psychologists (CAP) after he was found guilty of unprofessional conduct for inappropriate behaviour involving two 15-year-old students.
One student lodged a complaint to CAP on October 21, 2020 and the College opened an investigation.
According to an agreed statement of facts, Rhodenizer was a family school liaison counsellor in 2015 when he saw the students for multiple group and individual counselling sessions.
In the hearing tribunal’s written decision, Rhodenizer — who was 31-years-old at the time — expressed inappropriate affection and exchanged text messages of an intimate, inappropriate or sexual nature with one student, and spoke to the other in an inappropriate and sexually suggestive manner.
Steven Osmond, his lawyer, argued Rhodenizer was “a silly stupid boy” of a similar demographic to his patients at the time and had not yet learned to control his urges.
The tribunal categorically rejected those submissions.
“We have emphasized the fact that as psychologists and as a College, that we have always had a code of ethics that prohibits psychologists from engaging in person, intimate and especially sexual relationships with their patients or clients,” CAP complaints director Dr. Troy Janzen said.
Rhodenizer was not accused of engaging in any physical relationships with the students.
He resigned from his position at the school in June 2016, without reporting his actions to his supervisor.
In an email to Global News, Rhodenizer says he did not inform Horizon School Division of his reasons for leaving and he left because he was offered employment elsewhere.
Horizon School Division confirmed to Global News Rhodenizer began working for the division eight years ago and resigned two years later.
“Prior to reviewing the April 29, 2022 College of Alberta Psychologists hearing tribunal decision I was not aware of any improper communication involving Mr. Rhodenizer,” Horizon superintendent Wilco Tymensen said in a statement to Global News.
“Upon reading CAP’s decision it is my understanding that no report was made at the time of the incident and that the individual submitted a complaint directly to CAP.”
The Lethbridge School Division confirms Rhodenizer worked for them — after he resigned from Horizon — from 2017 until 2019, but wouldn’t say at which school.
Lethbridge College confirmed he was hired as the post-secondary’s wellness services manager on Mar. 14, of this year — a month after the tribunal’s ruling and two days before his suspension came into effect. He left that role on Apr. 20.
Global News asked Lethbridge College if they were aware of Rhodenizer’s professional circumstances when he was hired and how he came to leave the position, and were told the school cannot comment on employment matters.
Janzen says he has no knowledge of that situation, but says a management role wouldn’t violate Rhodenizer’s sanctions.
“The suspensions of one’s practice permit means they cannot provide services that are in scope of a psychologist,” Janzen said.
“That means they can’t do intervention services like counselling or psychotherapy, they can’t do assessment, consultation or clinical supervision. It does not restrict someone from playing a management or administrative-pure role.”
When asked whether he performed any of those roles while employed at Lethbridge College, Rhodenizer replied he did not perform any intervention services and was not in breach of his suspension.
To get his license back, Rhodenizer must complete a boundaries course, he’ll also be restricted to working only with adults unless he undergoes an assessment that may allow him to work with minors again. He must also only work in a practice that employs other health professionals.
According to its website, Rhodenizer is the director and owner of the Lethbridge Institute of Family Therapy (LIFT), which does have other professionals on staff.
The website also names Rhodenizer as the director of Lifestar Alberta, a program for people affected by unwanted sexual behaviour, infidelity and betrayal trauma.
When asked whether he wanted to comment on CAP’s decision, Rhodenizer replied he will not provide further comment. His lawyer also declined to provide a statement on his client’s situation.
Rhodenizer’s suspension will end July 16. LIFT’s website says he is not currently accepting clients until July 2022.