donald trump
Many mental health professionals have flouted the Goldwater Rule, which states it's unethical to parse a public figure's mental state. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Mental health as part of political commentary is typically frowned upon by the American Psychoanalytic Association (APsaA), but President Donald Trump’s antics have the organization backing off with its hands up.

 

The New York-based association emailed more than 3,500 members earlier this month to say it “does not consider political commentary by its individual members an ethical matter.”

 

The conflict stemmed from a decades-old edict, the Goldwater Rule, that many psychologists and psychiatrists viewed as a “gag rule.”

 

The Goldwater Rule comes from the 1964 presidential election after the magazine Fact polled more than 12,000 psychiatrists on whether Republican nominee Barry Goldwater was well enough to hold the highest office.

 

Goldwater sued the now-defunct magazine and a court found it liable for damages.

 

The APsaA is one of the first major psychology groups to break from the Goldwater Rule.

2012 Position Statement Regarding Psychoanalysts by Metro US on Scribd

Those who support the rule say it isn’t ethical to analyze or diagnose a person without a proper examination.

APsaA’s email to its members was spurred by the “belief in the value of psychoanalytic knowledge in explaining human behavior. We don’t want to prohibit our members from using their knowledge responsibly,” Prudence Gourguechon, a Chicago-based psychiatrist, told STAT.

Speaking on a politician’s mental fitness has gained relevance “since Trump’s behavior is so different from anything we’ve seen before” from a leader, she told the magazine.

APsaA email July 6 by Metro US on Scribd

After the STAT article appeared, the APsaA clarified its new stance stating that defying the Goldwater Rule would break the ethical code of the American Psychiatric Association (APA), a separate group of 37,000 professionals.

“There has not been a united front in the mental health field. In fact, each mental health organization has its own ethical code and ethical standards,” Gourguechon told Yahoo News. “What our president’s email was saying was that the American Psychoanalytic Association encourages members to speak out in public and share our expertise and has a different ethical standard and code from the American Psychiatric Association. Our ethics code hasn’t changed.”

Meaning, while the organization won’t step in the arena and make guesses on POTUS’ mental health, the email’s message stepped away from the Goldwater Rule saying that it isn’t unethical for individuals to comment on a politician’s mental health.

“However, it is important to note that members of APsaA are free to comment about political figures as individuals,” the APsaA clarified on its website. “The American Psychiatric Association's ethical stance on the Goldwater Rule applies to its members only. APsaA does not consider political commentary by its individual members an ethical matter. APsaA's ethical code concerns clinical practice, not public commentary.”

“The Goldwater Rule applies to the 37,000 physician members of the American Psychiatric Association, not other groups, non-members, or non-physicians,” Rebecca Weintraub Brendel, a member of the APsaA and a professor at Harvard Medical School, said in a statement. “The rule represents sound psychiatric ethics, preserves the integrity of the profession, and respects the patients that our members serve."