Impostors and impersonators: Fake health practitioners, psychiatry, psychology and the law

Prof. Ian Freckelton1

1Barrister, Melbourne, Australia

The sentencing in Victoria of the impostor gynaecologist, Raffaele Di Paolo, to nine and half years’ imprisonment for a range of deception offences raises the issue of what leads unqualified persons to obtain registration as health practitioners and hold themselves out as having skills and entitlements as such practitioners that they do not possess. The phenomenon of  medical practitioners,  nurses, dentists and  psychologists, amongst others, engaging in such elaborate fraud has a lengthy history with many notorious examples of such conduct having been exposed after periods of successful fraud by the perpetrators. A number of explanations have been proffered for the conduct, including  the commercial, the desire for sexual opportunism and the psychological. Pseudologia Phantastica was a term coined by Delbrueck in 1891 for compulsive lying. However, the only appearance of “pathological lying: in the DSM-5 is in relation to Factitious Disorder. There can be an overlap with a variety of personality disorders, especially those featuring grandiosity, including Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Generally it is persons coming from overseas who latterly have engaged in premeditatedly fabricating their qualifications. In spite of a general tightening of checking of asserted qualifications, persons determined to fabricate their credentials and to create fictional lives continue to make their way through the regulatory net. This paper seeks to understand the phenomenon of impostor health practitioners better and to facilitate the development of checks and balances to reduce the prospects of success for persons minded to engage in such dangerous conduct.


QC in full time-national practice from Crockett Chambers, Melbourne. Professorial Fellow in Law and Psychiatry, University of Melbourne; Adjunct Professor in Forensic Medicine, Monash University; Adjunct Professor, Johns Hopkins University. Former President of ANZAPPL. Editor-in-Chief of Psychiatry, Psychology and Law, Editor-, Journal of Law and Medicine; member Coronial Council, Vic, & Mental Health Tribunal, Vic. Elected Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences Australia, the Academy of Law, and the Australasian College of Legal Medicine. Author of more than 40 books and more than 600 peer reviewed articles and chapters of books

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