As the 2016 presidential election approaches, psychologists are gaining media attention by diagnosing candidates as having personality disorders, especially for the Republican nominee. But the public should question whether or not offering these diagnoses is professionally ethical or in the service of political agendas.
“Trained mental health practitioners serve the public good by providing diagnoses of individuals based on scientifically and professionally established assessment techniques,” notes Fisher, who chaired the committee that wrote the current American Psychological Association’s (APA) Ethical Principles and Code of Conduct, “however the public and the profession are harmed when psychologists provide opinions based on unsubstantiated information drawn from media reports or other subjective observations.”
There have been claims suggesting that psychologists who offer diagnoses of Donald Trump are doing so for the purpose of national and public interest. According to Fisher, who is the author of the widely read Decoding the Ethics Code: A Practical Guide for Psychologists, “Psychologists who claim that ‘Trumpism’ is a threat to democracy that provides moral justification to offer public diagnoses in the absence of established assessment techniques are deluding themselves into thinking that these unprofessional opinions benefit society.” Fisher further explains that psychologists are actually in “clear violation of the APA Ethics Code and are inadvertently contributing to a political climate based on opinion rather than fact.”
The following is an interview with the American Public Health Association’s Ethics Section with Fordham University Center for Ethics Education Director Dr. Celia B. Fisher who served as an advisor for a White House panel on conversion therapy.
In April of this year, President Barack Obama announced his support for state efforts to pass Leelah’s laws. Such laws seek to ban conversion therapy, a practice which claims to change individuals with LGBTQ identities to a heterosexual identity and is named for an American transgender girl who committed suicide after undergoing conversion therapy. Celia B. Fisher is the Marie Ward Doty University Chair in Ethics and Director of the Center for Ethics Education at Fordham University and an Ethics Section member. She served as an advisor for a White House report released last fall, Ending Conversion Therapy: Supporting and Affirming LGBTQ Youth.
Following a White House report released in October condemning the use of conversion therapy, Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Patty Murray (D-WA) have introduced legislation to end the harmful practice.
As consumers of the media, it is not uncommon to “diagnose” public figures with various mental disorders, depending on their representation in the press. But for psychologists and psychiatrists, is doing so unethical?
In an op-ed in The New York Times, Columbia University’s Dr. Robert Klitzman explained that for psychiatrists like himself, there is a prohibition from the American Psychiatric Association on providing professional opinions on individuals they have never met or evaluated before.
Troublingly, though, Klitzman mentions that “Psychologists (with Ph.D.s, as opposed to psychiatrists, with medical degrees) argue that this principle does not fully apply to them, and that offering diagnoses of public figures can be in the national interest.”
Psychologists who provide mental health services to adolescents and their families must navigate complex ethical challenges with respect to confidentiality and disclosure decision-making.
How do mental health clinicians develop confidentiality policies that serve to protect minors from serious harm, fulfill professional and legal responsibilities, and preserve the therapeutic relationship with the adolescent and parents/ guardians?
A report released today is a major step in President Obama’s commitment to expand the number of states enacting “Leelah’s Law,” which would ban the use of conversion therapy to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of lesbian, gay and transgender children and youth.
Dr. Celia B. Fisher, Director of the Fordham University Center for Ethics Education and the Marie Ward Doty Endowed Chair and Professor of Psychology served on the expert consensus panel whose recommendations form the basis of this report.
Developing appropriate professional boundaries with clients/patients can be one of the most challenging therapeutic tasks to negotiate, irrespective of one’s level of training or experience. But what about practitioners who are embedded in communities in ways that transcend geographic overlap, in which there may be cultural or other aspects of commonality?
Fordham University Center for Ethics Education Assistant Director Dr. Adam Fried is the editor of the ethics column of The Clinical Psychologist, a publication of the American Psychological Association (APA) and addressed that subject in his most recent column.