Bettina Arndt rejects claims she misrepresented herself as a psychologist

Josh Taylor
Photograph: Fairfax Media/Fairfax Media via Getty Images

Controversial Australia Day awards recipient, former sex therapist and media commentator Bettina Arndt has defended claims she has misrepresented herself in interviews to be a clinical psychologist, despite not being legally registered.

On Sunday, Arndt was made a Member of the Order of Australia, the third-highest rank in Australia’s civic orders system, for services “to gender equity”.

Arndt has been a source of controversy for several years, particularly for her speaking tour arguing there is a “fake rape crisis” at university campuses, her book #MenToo, and most recently for a 2018 interview conducted with convicted paedophile Nicolaas Bester.

Bester was jailed for grooming and repeatedly raping his 15-year-old student. After being released from prison, Bester said on an internet forum in 2015 that his crime was “awesome”. In the interview, Arndt described female students as being “sexually provocative” to male teachers.

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New Matilda reported this week close to 200 instances where Arndt had been interviewed on TV or radio or referred to in articles, in parliament or at conferences and was introduced as a psychologist, a clinical psychologist or a doctor, despite not being registered with the regulator, Ahpra (Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency).

This includes the Guardian in 2010.

New Matilda found 10 videos on Arndt’s own YouTube channel that had been viewed more than 200,000 times where Arndt was introduced as a psychologist, and reported that the 2009 first edition of her book The Sex Diaries, referred to her as a clinical psychologist. This was corrected in the 2010 version.

On her own Facebook page, an image of a promo for a Sydney University Liberal Club event about rape on campuses refers to Arndt as “a sex therapist, a psychologist and a prominent social commentator”.

Under federal legislation that came into effect in 2010, it is an offence to hold yourself out to be registered when you are not. In 2018, a counsellor was fined $9,500 for claiming to be a registered psychologist, after Ahpra filed a charge in the local court of New South Wales.

This law also covers media, an Ahpra spokeswoman said.

“Third parties, such as news organisations, also have an obligation under the national law to not knowingly hold someone out to be registered when they are not,” the Ahpra spokeswoman told Guardian Australia.

Prior to 2010, Arndt would have been subject to the NSW law, which from 1989 required psychologists to be registered.

Guardian Australia has sought comment from Arndt. In a Facebook post, Arndt explained when she obtained her Master of Clinical Psychology in 1973, it was not a requirement for psychologists to be registered.

Arndt said she never registered because she had decided to do her work on sex education as a media commentator and writer, but said someone’s historical work is often how they’re described in media. Arndt said she tried to control how she was introduced.

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“As professional registration of psychologists tightened up, I tried to control how I was described more carefully when being introduced on radio and television. This isn’t always so easy. Producers and researchers looking after these programs change jobs frequently and it requires constant monitoring,” she said.

Arndt said she refers to herself as being “trained as a clinical psychologist.”

The Ahpra spokeswoman said the agency was “looking closely at the material outlined in the New Matilda article”.

Arndt’s Australia Day honour prompted outrage from family violence campaigners including Rosie Batty, and Victorian attorney general Jill Hennessy, who has written to the governor general, David Hurley, calling for the honour to be rescinded.

“Ms Arndt’s views and activities diminish the devastating experiences of victim-survivors of family and sexual violence, promote division and discourage victim-survivors from taking steps to ensure their survival and safety,” Hennessy said in the letter.

Arndt told ABC Melbourne the letter was “ludicrous”.