American Psychiatric Association warns physicians not to psychoanalyze presidential candidates

Though it may be tempting to delve into the psyche of the presidential candidates, Maria Oquendo, MD, president of the American Psychiatric Association, advised members Wednesday to resist the urge to do so.

"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," Dr. Oquendo wrote on the APA blog, reminding psychiatrists of a "large, very public ethical misstep" made by psychiatrists during a presidential election 52 years ago.

This misstep occurred during the 1964 presidential race involving Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater (R) and incumbent President Lyndon B. Johnson (D). An article published by Fact magazine polled nearly 12,400 psychiatrists on the senator's psychological capability to be president, so he sued for libel. These actions led to the APA's "Goldwater Rule," which states that it is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion of a public figure without an examination and proper authorization.

Dr. Oquendo's Goldwater warning is likely aimed at any psychiatrists itching to comment on GOP candidate Donald Trump, as some psychologists and other mental health professionals have already done.

"We live in an age where information on a given individual is easier to access and more abundant than ever before, particularly if that person happens to be a public figure. With that in mind, I can understand the desire to get inside the mind of a Presidential candidate," Dr. Oquendo wrote. "Simply put, breaking the Goldwater Rule is irresponsible, potentially stigmatizing and definitely unethical."

 

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