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Psychiatrists ask APA to change rule prohibiting analysis of public figures

Psychiatrists ask APA to change rule prohibiting analysis of public figures

A group of prominent psychiatrists are calling on the American Psychiatric Association (APA) to change a controversial rule that prohibits members from speculating about the mental state of public figures.

In a letter sent to the APA Thursday, the psychiatrists said that the so-called Goldwater Rule can put the public in danger by denying trained professionals from addressing mental health issues demonstrated by public figures, such as an elected official.

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During the presidential election in 2016, when discussion of then-candidate Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: 'I don't trust everybody in the White House' JPMorgan CEO withdraws from Saudi conference Trump defends family separations at border MORE's mental state became widespread, the APA reminded members of the rule governing ethics in the profession.

"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," then-APA President Maria Oquendo said at the time.

Now some psychiatrists are asking for a formal change.

“The Goldwater Rule, in its present form, is antiquated, illogical, without scientific foundation, and intrinsically undermining of mental health professionals’ efforts to protect the public’s well-being,” the letter states.

The letter is signed by many of the co-authors of the book “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President,” including: Dr. Robert Jay Lifton, a preeminent researcher on the psychological effects of war and violence; Philip Zimbardo, of the Stanford Prison Experiment; and Leonard Glass, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

The Goldwater Rule was adopted by the APA in 1973 and states that 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.

Opposition to the rule has increased recently as some mental health professionals expressed concern they were being blocked from commenting on the mental state of the president.

We see our speaking out on our sense of dangerous psychological unfitness in a public figure as an ethical imperative, not an ethical transgression,” the letter states. “The Goldwater Rule’s insistence that it is unethical for a mental health professional to comment on a public figure’s psychological functioning without an interview is misguided and without scientific foundation.”

According to the signees, the rule oversteps the bounds of protecting the doctor-patient relationship. Mental health professionals have a “duty,” the letter states, “to educate the public on matters that fall within our areas of expertise.”