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.
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.
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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.”