2016-08-11 / Front Page

Amateurs analyze Trump’s mind, but should the pros do it?

By SETH BORENSTEIN
AP Science Writer

WASHINGTON — Amateur psychoanalysts have put Donald Trump on the couch, calling him a sociopath, unhinged, a narcissist. Amid all this psychtalk, there is one group of people who aren’t talking as much: the professionals. Or at least they’re not supposed to.

Professional ethics dictate that psychiatrists and psychologists avoid publicly analyzing or diagnosing someone they’ve never examined, but there is new and unusually vocal dissension against this long-held gag rule because of what some of them think they hear and see in Trump. Because these professionals tend to be more liberal the result is a juggling act of propriety, politics and ethics.

Armchair psychology has exploded into social media and op-ed columns over the past week, most recently with Trump’s comment Tuesday calling on gun-rights supporters to stop Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. His political opponents have grabbed hold, with President Barack Obama calling the Republican presidential nominee “unfit” and a Democratic congresswoman starting a petition to force Trump to undergo a mental health evaluation.

Members of the American Psychiatric Association are bound by a 43-year-old ethics rule, called the Goldwater rule because it stems from mistaken public concerns about the mental health of the 1964 Republican presidential nominee, Sen. Barry Goldwater. Psychiatrists have been reprimanded and can be booted out of the organization if they violate that rule.

But some are now chafing at the restriction, saying they feel obligated to speak out with their worries about Trump. Others see those analyses of the candidate as dangerous and jumping to false conclusions. The Associated Press spoke to 11 psychiatrists and psychologists for this story and they were split about whether they should talk publicly about candidates’ mental health.

Analysis and diagnosis without meeting a patient, and without medical records, “are so likely to be wrong, so likely to be harmful to that person and so likely to discourage people from seeking psychiatric treatment that psychiatrists should not engage in that behavior,” said Columbia University’s Dr. Paul Appelbaum, a past president of the American Psychiatric Association.

This month the psychiatric association even posted a warning on its website, reminding professionals to stay mum: “The unique atmosphere of this year’s election cycle may lead some to want to psychoanalyze the candidates, but to do so would not only be unethical, it would be irresponsible.”

But a few experts do discuss Trump publicly, dancing the fine line between diagnosis and merely describing what they see in his public appearances and pronouncements. The University of Minnesota’s Dr. Jerome Kroll is one of them. He co-wrote an academic journal commentary calling for the end of the Goldwater rule.

“I am a citizen,” he said. “If I have something to say, what I say might be stupid. What I say may embarrass psychiatry, but it’s certainly not medically unethical.”

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