Not too long ago we talked about Ivy League psychiatrist Dr. Bandy X. Lee, who had briefed members of Congress (read: pretty much entirely Democrats) on President Trump’s mental health. Despite having never even met the President, say nothing of examined him, she apparently had quite a lot to say. Dr. Lee and her colleagues who jumped on the dogpile have been getting some significant pushback since then, with not only members of the press (a few of them, anyway) objecting, but drawing a formal rebuke from the American Psychiatric Association (APA) who called for an end to “armchair psychiatry.” (Legal Insurrection)
Today, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) reiterates its continued and unwavering commitment to the ethical principle known as “The Goldwater Rule.” We at the APA call for an end to psychiatrists providing professional opinions in the media about public figures whom they have not examined, whether it be on cable news appearances, books, or in social media. Armchair psychiatry or the use of psychiatry as a political tool is the misuse of psychiatry and is unacceptable and unethical.
The ethical principle, in place since 1973, guides physician members of the APA to refrain from publicly issuing professional medical opinions about individuals that they have not personally evaluated in a professional setting or context. Doing otherwise undermines the credibility and integrity of the profession and the physician-patient relationship.
As Mike Lachance at Legal Insurrection pointed out yesterday, two Harvard shrinks pushed back on this criticism in the pages of Politico, strangely claiming that diagnosing the President’s mental health from the other side of a television screen wasn’t violating the Goldwater Rule at all. In their opinion, since they aren’t diagnosing Trump “in a specific way” in their various publications and comments, everything is fair game. Also, it’s “not only acceptable but vitally necessary to have a public conversation about the mental state of our nation’s leader.”
Sorry, Doc, but I don’t think that’s going to fly. Take, for example, the idea of me writing a post on our site saying, hey… did you hear what the President said last night? That guy is nuts. That’s commentary, which you can agree with or dispute as you wish. It’s not even particularly useful commentary since the closest I ever came to medical school was shortly after a motorcycle accident in the 80s. But when two Doctors of Psychiatry from Harvard say the same thing, it’s a diagnosis. You don’t need to tell us the specific name of the mental ailment you suspect is plaguing a public official. (I’d wager more than a few of us wouldn’t know what it meant without hitting up Google anyway.) It’s sufficient just to say that something isn’t right.
But, hey… don’t let us stop you. There’s finally all sorts of political and media figures paying attention to you. Enjoy your fifteen minutes while it lasts.