President Donald Trump’s first week in office was spent signing executive orders regarding the Dakota Access and Keystone XL Pipelines, visa and refugee programs and a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, all which sparked nationwide demonstrations and protests. Since the beginning of Trump’s campaign and more frequently over the past week, media outlets and select “experts” have been gaining attention by diagnosing Trump with various mental or personality disorders. However, is it ethical for experts in psychology and psychiatry to offer professionals diagnoses of Trump and what are the political implications?
A recent article published in U.S. News & World Report titled, “Temperament Tantrum,” featured a professional assessment of the 45h President from John D. Gartner, a practicing psychotherapist who previously taught psychiatric residents at Johns Hopkins University. Gartner told U.S. News & World Report that Trump has “malignant narcissism,” an incurable narcissistic personality disorder. Despite the Goldwater Rule, in Section 7.3 of the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Ethics Code, which cautions against offering a professional opinion about an individual in the public eye who has not been formally evaluated, Gartner argues that in the case of Trump, he can “make this diagnosis indisputably” and the breaking of the [Goldwater Rule within the] ethics code is warranted.
According to Dr. Celia Fisher, Professor of Psychology and Director of the Fordham University Center for Ethics Education, however, such misleading statements by mental health professionals “helps the Trump administration hide their strategic intent to undermine traditional democratic principles under the guise of a President whose impulses often get the better of him.”
As former Chair of the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Task Force that created the most recent APA Ethics Code, Dr. Fisher notes that not only is Gartner’s diagnosis at a distance “at odds with professional ethics,” but also feeds into “public distrust of both the mental health profession and our political system.”
Since the election of Donald Trump in November, there has been a 35 percent increase in hate crimes across New York City, according to Straus News. Throughout the presidential campaign, reported NYPD statistics of the city’s hate crime count has doubled in a year with 43 incidents in the 27 days following the election. The rhetoric and tone of the Trump campaign targeted many minorities and could be the reason for this rise.
These hate crimes and incidents included verbal and physical assaults on two Muslim women, a police officer and an MTA employee, and swastika graffiti in multiple places including the NYC subway and inside the elevator of state Senator Brad Hoylman’s apartment building. New Yorkers met for a workshop last month to educate themselves and help others by speaking up for victims of these attacks.
“When you have groups that are being dehumanized or considered the ‘other,’ there’s something else that’s at play when people don’t do anything,” said Dr. Celia B. Fisher, Director of the Center for Ethics Education and psychologist at Fordham University. “People are violent against others because it gives them a sense of power and belonging to a larger group. In order to combat that, it’s a larger cultural issue in terms of beginning to talk about minorities … in terms of Americans who are one of us.”
Although the death penalty is on the decline in the United States, the case of James Rhodes highlights the ethical quagmire facing forensic psychiatrists and psychologists whose evaluations contribute whether persons with intellectual disabilities convicted of murder will live or die.
In addition to the increasingly familiar racial biases and legal flaws in death penalty convictions and use of lethal injection, according to Celia B. Fisher, Ph.D. Director of Fordham University’s Centerfor Ethics Education, little attention has been paid to the lack of professional consensus surrounding the validity and reliability of IQ tests in general and for racial minorities in particular, disagreement over the use of absolute cut-off scores to determine intellectual disability, and the inherent fallibility of tests to determine the probability of future violence.
“Professional evaluations are not a panacea for inconsistent, uninformed and often racially biased jury decisions,” notes Fisher, “rather than providing a fair and neutral assessment of mental ability forensic assessments are contributing to inconsistencies that lethally violate the human rights of convicted criminals in capital cases.”
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.”
Each day will feature two Fordham faculty members from different departments presenting on and discussing different topics in contemporary ethics. Using a team-teaching approach, this course brings together faculty from six disciplines to provide foundational knowledge about moral philosophy, moral theology, and bioethics, and features lectures and case discussion on issues of current social importance.
Clinical psychologists can face ethical dilemmas on a daily basis as a result of the nature of their work: clients revealing confidential and sensitive information during each session. Questions such as how to ethically terminate therapy and avoid “abandoning” a client, or how best to ethically address religious and spiritual issues in psychotherapy involving LGBT clients arise regularly in practice.
The Applied Developmental Psychology doctoral program at Fordham University takes a unique, multidisciplinary approach to the study of social issues. The Fordham program has introduced three new specialities: Families, Schools, and Society; Race, Ethnicity, and Culture; and Health, Illness, and Well-Being; all of which recognize the increasing need for multidisciplinary perspectives on health promotion research and interventions across the lifespan.
The program aims to increase understanding of developmental processes, including health, academic, cognitive, social, and emotional outcomes over time. To accomplish this, they are adding to their renowned faculty a position that is open to experienced scientists in public health, education and biopsychology. To learn more about the program, please visit the Fordham ADP website. For the announcement for the new position and information on how to apply, please see the ad listing.