The president of the American Psychiatric Association has issued a plea to her fellow psychiatrists: Stop psychoanalyzing Donald Trump from afar, Dr. Maria A. Oquendo wrote in a statement published on the APA’s website, because to do so is “irresponsible, potentially stigmatizing, and definitely unethical.”
A bit of context: In 1964, the now-defunct Fact magazine published a survey of 2,417 psychiatrists — 1,189 of which agreed the Republican presidential nominee, Barry Goldwater, seemed psychologically unfit for the White House. Later, Goldwater sued Fact for libel, a case that was dragged out for years in court. But the result Oquendo is concerned with is what’s known as the Goldwater Rule, a late-1960s addition to the medical ethics handbook kept by the American Psychiatric Association. It reads:
On occasion psychiatrists are asked for an opinion about an individual who is in the light of public attention or who has disclosed information about himself/herself through public media. In such circumstances, a psychiatrist may share with the public his or her expertise about psychiatric issues in general. However, it is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement.
And so it’s been interesting to watch a handful of experts in medicine or mental health flout the Goldwater Rule when it comes to Trump. As the Washington Post pointed out, former Harvard Medical School dean Jeffrey Flier recently said this on Twitter:
And in June, The Atlantic published nearly 9,000 words written by Northwestern University psychology professor Dan P. McAdams under the headline “The Mind of Donald Trump.” Oquendo’s statement does not call anyone out by name; neither does she seem especially interested in the political implications at hand. Instead, her concern is focused on patients. “I can understand the desire to get inside the mind of a Presidential candidate,” she writes. “I can also understand how a patient might feel if they saw their doctor offering an uninformed medical opinion on someone they have never examined. A patient who sees that might lose confidence in their doctor, and would likely feel stigmatized by language painting a candidate with a mental disorder (real or perceived) as ‘unfit’ or ‘unworthy’ to assume the Presidency.”