A court has heard about the "serious offending" of a former Ballarat psychiatrist who sexually assaulted two "vulnerable" clients.
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Dr Praveen Thottappilil, who ran Australian Mental Health Services - Ballarat on Drummond Street, pleaded guilty to a string of nine offences at the Ballarat Magistrates' Court on Tuesday.
The police prosecutor told the court two women had made complaints about the psychiatrist, who is currently suspended from practice.
The first was referred to see him in 2011 due to trauma stemming from a violent sexual assault while she was working. The second complainant began seeing Thottappilil in 2018.
Both were diagnosed with mental illnesses and Thottappilil saw them regularly for treatment and to prescribe medication.
After several years of treatment with Thottappilil, the court heard he told the first complainant to stop bringing a support person to her sessions as she needed to "get used to it being just the two of them".
The court heard the 51-year-old would lock the door for their sessions and would steer the conversation to asking her to describe her experiences when she was a sex worker.
"He would get excited by her stories and would sit with his legs crossed as if hiding an erection," the court was told.
On one occasion he physically approached the woman and began massaging her shoulders, before moving his hand to her breasts and asking if it was "where the pain is".
The woman, who had disclosed fears of being touched, froze and after about a minute shrugged him off and he apologised.
He introduced this as "exposure therapy". While the first five minutes of the sessions would start out as normal they would then shift to discussing sex before he would touch her - whether on her arms, legs or sometimes on her breasts.
Around early 2019 he started to show her pornographic videos on his mobile phone and when she turned up to one session in a particularly distressed state she spent most of it crying in his lap, but when she attempted to leave he blocked the door.
The court heard he wrapped his arms around her in a "kind of hug" but then slid his hands up her top and squeezed her breasts before pressing his hips forward so she could feel his erect penis against her backside.
He then told her he wanted to lick her nipples. The court heard the woman "was in shock and couldn't believe it" and pushed past him to leave.
She wore more conservative clothing for their session the following week but upon sitting down for their session he told her he had thought about her while he was masturbating in the shower.
The woman told him that if he wanted to touch her "he would have to pay" and he ran out of the room.
The woman was "furious" about what had been happening and decided to begin secretly record their sessions on her phone.
The police prosecutor also detailed the offending against the second complainant, which started in 2020.
The court was told Thottappilil had started moving closer to her during their sessions and she had noticed he would lock the door.
The court heard that when the woman would open up about her experiences she would "close her eyes and cry".
During one session he held her hand and this became a common occurrence. On one occasion he stroked her cheek "and told her she was beautiful" and the complainant began to fear him and lose trust. Another time he hugged her and kissed her cheek.
In August 2020 they were sitting opposite each other with their knees touching during a session and he leaned forward and kissed her on the cheek.
When she opened her eyes he kissed her on the mouth and told her it was "the first time he had kissed a white woman".
Both of them stood up and he touched her breast and then lifted her hand and placed it on his penis.
The court heard the woman "was shocked" at this and he then confessed that he "really liked her".
The woman also decided to begin recording subsequent sessions and during one he kissed her again and with his back turned told her they "needed to be careful and discreet".
When he turned around he was holding his penis in his hand up to her face. When the woman said she needed to think, he zipped up his trousers.
The woman recorded a few sessions and last last year provided the recordings and text messages to police.
The first complainant also provided recordings of her sessions to police.
During some of the recordings he is heard apologising for being unprofessional, the court heard.
Thottappilil was arrested in November 2020 in relation to the incidents and police seized his phone.
He denied some of the offending and did not want to comment about some incidents during the police interviews.
The prosecutor submitted the patients were vulnerable and were seeing him for help when the offending occurred.
He has been reported to The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (Ahpra) and is currently suspended.
Thottappilil's lawyer, Sean Cash, said his client had "lost everything" including the respect of others, his career and his $250,000 annual salary.
He said the reason for the offending was that his client had grown up in India and was raised in a traditional way meaning he was "awkward" about sex.
His family arranged his marriage and it had turned out to be "incompatible" with his expectations of sex and their relationship was "very conservative and controlled".
He conceded his client should not have allowed his arousal to dictate the terms but that "in a sense the offending was situationally-motivated and opportunistic".
"He will never again be in such a situation where he can avail himself of such an opportunity".
Magistrate Hugh Radford described the offending as "serious" and ordered Thottappilil be assessed for a community corrections order.
Victim impact statements will be read out to the court on the next court date, when he will be sentenced in February 2022.
Affected by this story? There is help available.
You can phone the Ballarat Centre Against Sexual Assault, in Sebastopol, on 5320 3933, or free-call the crisis care line 24 hours on 1800 806 292. Or phone Lifeline on 13 11 14, the Blue Knot Foundation on 1300 657 380, or Relationships Australia on 1300 364 277.
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