Psychiatrists Disagree Over Whether They Should Discuss Trump’s Mental Health

Updated: Jul 25, 2017 12:03 PM ET
TIME Health
For more, visit TIME Health.

A psychiatry group told its members they can comment on the mental health of President Trump—going against the longstanding so-called Goldwater Rule, a self-imposed code that prevents the psychiatry community from commenting on the mental health of public figures.

In an email, the American Psychoanalytic Association told its 3,500 members they don't have to abide by the Goldwater Rule, which states that mental health professionals should not discuss the mental state of someone they have not personally evaluated, Stat News reported on Tuesday. But the American Psychiatric Association is standing firm against any change in the policy.

"We don't want to prohibit our members from using their knowledge responsibly," Prudence Gourguechon, past president of the association, told Stat News.

In a statement, the American Psychoanalytic Association said it "did not encourage members” to go against the Goldwater Rule.

"Rather, it articulated a distinct ethics position that represents the viewpoint of psychoanalysts,” a spokesperson for the association said. "The field of psychoanalysis addresses the full spectrum of human behavior, and we feel that our concepts and understanding are applicable and valuable to understanding a wide range of human behaviors and cultural phenomenon."

The email sent to members noted that the Goldwater Rule applies only to members of the American Psychiatric Association. While the email did not specifically tell members to defy the rule, it said that the American Psychoanalytic Association “does not consider political commentary by its individual members an ethical matter.”

“APsaA’s ethical code concerns clinical practices, not public commentary,” the email said.

The debate over whether health professionals can comment on Trump's mental faculties has raged since the president was elected, with several mental health experts arguing that the Goldwater Rule needs more flexibility regards to Trump. An online petition that calls Trump "mentally ill," started by psychiatrist John Gartner, has received more than 55,000 signatures since April.

Despite the note from the American Psychoanalytic Association, the American Psychiatric Association—which has more than 37,000 members — said on Tuesday that it continues to stand by the Goldwater Rule.

The Goldwater Rule stems from a controversy in 1964, when Fact magazine reported that more than 1,000 mental health professionals said they believed that then-Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater was not mentally fit for office. Goldwater successfully sued Fact for libel after he lost the election, leading to the rule's addition to the American Psychiatric Association's ethics guidelines.

All products and services featured are based solely on editorial selection. TIME may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website.