Diagnosing Someone Who is Not Your Patient

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Have you ever heard of the Goldwater rule? If you have worked in psychology or psychiatry, chances are you are familiar with it or at least should be. Here is how wikipedia explains it,

“The Goldwater rule is the informal name given to Section 7 in the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Principles of Medical Ethics, which states it is unethical for psychiatrists to give a professional opinion about public figures they have not examined in person, and from whom they have not obtained consent to discuss their mental health in public statements. It is named after presidential candidate Barry Goldwater.

The issue arose in 1964 when Fact published the article “The Unconscious of a Conservative: A Special Issue on the Mind of Barry Goldwater”. The magazine polled psychiatrists about American Senator Barry Goldwater and whether he was fit to be president. The editor, Ralph Ginzburg, was sued for libel in Goldwater v. Ginzburg where Goldwater won $75,000 (approximately $579,000 today) in damages.” – From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goldwater_rule

This has been brought up recently with people trying to psychoanalyze President Trump and his fitness for being President. How is this relevant to us? There is a principle here that even non-clinicians should pay attention to. When you go around psychoanalyzing people on social media you are crossing a line. When you connect the dots from what someone is saying to what you think is wrong with them you are on dangerous ground. When you attempt to read people’s minds and assign motive you have already demonstrated you aren’t a worthwhile conversation partner.

There is always more to the story you don’t know about so don’t assume you do. One of the counseling professors I know has a great line in his instruction, “Let your judgements be gentle.” Why? Because there is always more to the story.

You really don’t know what is going on in someone’s life or mind and asking them a handful of loaded, agenda-laden questions won’t get you any closer. I have yet to see a single statement of consent on social media for the things people do to each other. We can have a conversation without getting into personal attacks, character flaws, and all manner of shoddy diagnosis.

Seek to understand rather than seeking to win. If you seek to win, you have already lost.

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