Ethics and Society

Ethical analysis and news from the Fordham University Center for Ethics Education

Fordham University’s Dr. Celia Fisher on Reversal of the Goldwater Rule

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The American Psychoanalytic Association announced earlier this month that members of the association no longer need to abide by the long-established “Goldwater Rule” named after 1964 presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. The rule, which can be found in Section 7.3 of the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Ethics Code, cautions against most psychiatrists and other mental health professionals offering opinions about an individual publicly – including the President of the United States.

According to Dr. Celia Fisher, Professor of Psychology and Director of the Fordham University Center for Ethics Education, this decision “elevated political and economic considerations above ethical principles.”

In an interview with Fordham News, Dr. Fisher stated, “Revising ethical standards to address a particularly problematic political figure or to condone the publication of a book does not reflect well on the association.  The public should be aware that the American Psychoanalytic Association organization does not represent the field of psychiatry per se, but a group of professionals who practice a particular therapeutic orientation within the mental health profession known as psychoanalysis.”

“Responsible diagnosis in psychoanalysis, as in other mental health fields, relies on assessment techniques that are characterized by interactions with and analysis of patient responses to specific established questions. A professionally and ethically responsible diagnosis cannot be determined in the absence of such interactions or assessments. For example, although the American Psychological Association has not adopted a “Goldwater Rule,” the importance of appropriate assessments are intrinsic in its ethics code, which forbids psychologists from providing opinions of the psychological characteristics of individuals if they have not “conducted an examination of the individuals adequate to support their statements or conclusions”. To be sure, the mental health profession can and should share their knowledge with the public, but irresponsible “diagnosis” diminishes the profession and does not serve the public it seeks to inform.”

The American Psychoanalytic Association’s Statement on “Goldwater Rule” can be found on their website.

For more from Dr. Fisher on this topic, stream the Fordham News February interview here and read our January post “Diagnosis at a Distance Continues to Undermine Public’s Ability to Evaluate Trump Policies.”

Celia B. Fisher, Ph.D. is the Fordham University Marie Ward Doty University Chair in Ethics and Director of the Center for Ethics Education. In addition to chairing the 2002 revision of the American Psychological Association’s Ethics Code, Fisher’s  Decoding the Ethics Code: A Practical Guide for Psychologists, is now in its fourth edition from Sage Publications.


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