British Columbia

Former B.C. psychologist is warned his actions in family court could have serious consequences

Still another investigation has uncovered allegations about problems with a former Vancouver psychologist's work in child custody battles, and prompted a warning about the potential repercussions of his opinions in family court.

New investigation into Vancouver's Allan Posthuma alleges issues with use of psychological tests

Allan Posthuma retired as a psychologist at the end of 2018. Multiple investigations have questioned his work during a four-decade career that saw him appear as an expert in hundreds of family law cases. (AllanPosthuma.com)

Still another investigation has uncovered allegations about problems with a former Vancouver psychologist's work in child custody battles, and prompted a warning about the potential repercussions of his opinions in family court.

The latest probe by the College of Psychologists of B.C. raised questions about Allan Posthuma's use of certain tests to make negative conclusions about one mother's fitness as a parent during an assessment performed as part of a family law case.

The mother lost almost all access to her child after Posthuma provided his assessment to the court. She hopes the college's findings will help her regain custody, but other parents who've filed complaints against Posthuma haven't had much luck on that front.

According to a Dec. 17 complaint investigation report from the college's inquiry committee, Posthuma has a tendency "to rely heavily on psychological tests that are not commonly used in this area of practice."

There's not much scientific evidence that these tests, which measure things like cognitive reasoning and emotional intelligence, say anything about a person's parenting, according to the college report.

The colleges cautions Posthuma that the expert opinions he gives during legal disputes involving children and families "may have serious and far ranging consequences," and reminds him that he has a duty to make it clear when he's experimenting with new ways of doing assessments.

This is the seventh report obtained by CBC that alleges Posthuma's work did not meet the standards expected of a psychologist. 

But the college chose not to take any further action against Posthuma, who gave up his licence at the end of 2018. His retirement meant the college cancelled a citation against him and opted not to hold a disciplinary hearing.

Mother hoped for 'repercussions'

The mother who filed the most recent complaint to the college told CBC she was deeply disappointed to learn Posthuma wouldn't face any discipline.

"I thought that there would be more that came out of it, if that makes sense, that there would be some repercussions towards him, that there would be some guidance as to what to do next," she said in a recent interview.

CBC is not naming the mother to protect the identity of her child, whom she is currently only allowed to see during supervised visits. 

The mother said she is considering filing for a review of the college's decision with the Health Professions Review Board, but her main focus is trying to regain custody of her child.

"My whole purpose right now is just to get my family back together, and that was my intention when I filed the complaint — if I can get them [the college] to say that his report is faulty then it should have a bearing on what's happening in court," she said.

Other parents who've filed successful complaints against Posthuma have had similar ideas, but they've made little progress in court. One judge declined to accept an investigation report from the college into evidence, saying that because Posthuma had not faced a disciplinary hearing, the report is "not of any importance."

The college cautioned Posthuma that his expert opinions in court 'may have serious and far ranging consequences.' (Cliff MacArthur/provincialcourt.bc.ca)

College registrar Andrea Kowaz told CBC she is unable to comment on specific investigations. In the Dec. 17 report, the college's inquiry committee makes it clear that its findings should not be taken as an opinion about the accuracy of Posthuma's assessments.

Posthuma and his lawyer did not respond to requests for comment. The Dec. 17 report says that Posthuma did not provide responses to the allegations against him, though he has in previous cases reviewed by CBC. He has previously told CBC that he is satisfied with his record and looks forward to spending more time with his family during retirement.

Kowaz said the college does not have the authority to force a retired psychologist to participate in an investigation, but it does have the power to continue that investigation even if someone isn't responding to questions.

That investigation is one of at least two that were completed in December. A second found that allegations of misconduct against Posthuma had not been substantiated, according to a report obtained by CBC.

No disciplinary hearing

Previous investigations have uncovered numerous allegations suggesting Posthuma had failed to meet the standards expected of him, but his retirement meant he didn't have to face a disciplinary hearing, and there was never an official finding of fact. 

Before he left the profession, Posthuma had spent more than four decades as a psychologist. He's quoted as an expert witness in more than 200 legal rulings available online, mostly concerning family disputes and personal injury claims.

All of the investigation reports reviewed by CBC concern opinions Posthuma provided in court about custody arrangements for children caught in the middle of their parents' breakups.

That includes a much earlier probe, completed in 2012, which resulted in Posthuma signing a resolution agreement in which he promised to make improvements to his work in family disputes and consult with an experienced colleague about "a number of issues arising in his professional practice." 

That agreement was never made public, and parents who filed complaints against Posthuma about his work since 2012 say they had no idea he'd been the subject of remedial action.

About the Author

Bethany Lindsay

Journalist

Bethany Lindsay is a B.C. journalist with a focus on the courts, health, science and social justice issues. Questions or news tips? Get in touch at bethany.lindsay@cbc.ca or on Twitter through @bethanylindsay.