Our president and armchair psychology

It is fair to say that we have never had a president like President Trump. But is he crazy? Apparently, many think so.

"I think he's crazy," Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) told his colleague Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).

CNN's Don Lemon concluded that "he's unhinged."

Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA) commented, "We've got a crazy leading the North Korea and we've got a crazy in the White House. We got a guy in the White House who's unstable and not fit for office."

Even some psychologists have weighed in.

"We warn that anyone as mentally unstable as Mr. Trump simply should not be entrusted with the life-and-death powers of the presidency," writes Harvard's Dr. Judith Lewis Herman and Yale's Dr. Bandy X. Lee. Dr. Lee even gave a briefing on Capitol Hill on the mental stability of the president.

There's even been a book written about President Trump's mental health, authored by Dr. Lee and 27 psychiatrists and other mental health professionals. More than 60,000 psychologists have signed a petition arguing that President Trump is psychologically unfit to serve as president of the United States and should be removed under the 25th Amendment.

I am not a clinical psychologist, but I am a fellow of both the American Psychological Association and the Association for Psychological Science (the two largest organizations of psychologists).

As individual citizens, of course, we are free to express whatever opinion we wish about President Trump. Psychologists, however, carry an addition burden. We are professionals and must be guided by some core precepts of the profession of psychology: care, objectivity, discipline, and a firm grounding in the appropriate method and process for rendering mental disorder diagnoses.

Diagnosing clinical psychological disorders is a serious and complex business. The American Psychiatric Association did not recently update the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5) for no reason.

From a professional perspective, you can no more answer that question with the information we have than you can about former presidents Barak Obama and George H.W. Bush or any other leader who has not been closely evaluated by a trained professional.

Mental health professionals run afoul of the American Psychiatric Association's Goldwater Rule, which deems it unethical to offer a professional opinion on a public figure without conducting a personal examination and without authorization to release the conclusions. (The debate dates to the 1964 presidential campaign, when a magazine published a survey of psychiatrists' views on Republican nominee Barry Goldwater.)

Under recent guidance from the APA, it is "fine for a psychiatrist to share their expertise about psychiatric issues in general," but "member psychiatrists should not give professional opinions about the mental state of someone they have not personally evaluated."

When we psychopathologize behavior we find objectionable, we do a disservice to the many individuals who suffer – through no fault of their own (no one chooses to have a clinical psychological disorder) – from oftentimes debilitating psychological conditions. We also, unintentionally, make a mockery of clinical psychology, a profession that has improved the lives of these individuals.

Oppose the current president if you wish. Express concern over his temperament, his behavior, and even his suitability for office. But do not fall into the easy trope of diagnosing mental conditions of leaders who you oppose.

I would go even further and argue we should be careful about making character judgments about our leaders, right, left, and in between. Character is a complex and subjective judgment -- and very difficult to assess from afar.

But that is a topic for another day.

Photo credit: whitehouse.gov

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Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.