'Unfit: The Psychology of Donald Trump': What is Goldwater Rule, how Tarasoff Rule overrides psychiatric gag order?

The film brings to focus two laws governing the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association that have radicalized modern psychiatric therapy


                            'Unfit: The Psychology of Donald Trump': What is Goldwater Rule, how Tarasoff Rule overrides psychiatric gag order?
Barry Goldwater (William Lovelace/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

'Unfit: The Psychology of Donald Trump', a new documentary from Dan Partland, examines the behavior of the 45th President of the US. With several news reports and media outlets pointing towards Trump's possibly deteriorating mental health, the film brings to focus two laws governing the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association that have radicalized modern psychiatric therapy: The Goldwater Rule and the Tarasoff Rule. 

What is the Goldwater Rule?

Fact magazine published an article featuring a survey in 1964, to argue if Republican candidate Senator Barry Goldwater had gone bonkers. The survey had 1,189 psychiatrists and as a result, Goldwater lost the presidency that year but won a lawsuit filed against the magazine. The magazine claimed have had its facts right and that the date supporters these facts, through the American Psychiatric Association repudiated them. Fact basically laid down that Goldwater was mentally ill, and not someone with a partisan opinion, simply because he believed things that the psychiatrists believed no sane person would believe. 

The editor of the magazine, Ralph Ginzburg wrote that Goldwater was “divorced from reality.” Furthermore, quoting psychiatrists, he claimed that the Republican senator was “suffering from a chronic psychosis,” was “basically a paranoid schizophrenic,” and “has the same pathological makeup as Hitler, Castro, Stalin, and other known schizophrenic leaders.” Ginzburg also claimed that Castro and Stalin were schizophrenics. While they can be deemed fanatics who were willing to murder thousands or millions for what they considered was the greater good, there was no evidence that they were "divorced from reality" or had no self-control. A vile idealogy did not necessarily mean that the person was bordering insanity.

Facts article and the criticism that followed led to the American Psychiatric Association installing te 'Goldwater Rule', where it stated 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.” It guided the ethics standard of the American Psychiatric Association, a branch of the American Psychological Association to ensure that psychiatrists and psychologists do not give professional opinions on public figures that they have not personally examined.

(Getty Images)

What is the Tarasoff Rule?

The University of California, Berkeley graduate student Prosenjit Poddar killed Tatiana Tarasoff, a fellow student, in October 1969. Enraged after she repeatedly rejected his advances, he sought her out while she was alone at home, confronted her which ended in him stabbing her 17 times. Months before the murder, Poddar had received emergency psychological treatment from Dr Lawrence Moore, a psychologist employed by the Cowell Memorial Hospital at the University of California, Berkeley. Poddar had seven consultations with Dr Moore and confessed to planning to kill Tarasoff. Dr Moore diagnosed Podder with having acute and sever "paranoid schizophrenic reaction." He and two other doctors determined that Poddar should be admitted to a psychiatric hospital for observation and contacted the police.

The police only briefly kept Poddar in custody and release him after he promised to stay away from Tarasoff. The doctors who examined Poddar never notified Tarasoff or her family about Podder and his threatening remarks. Poddar, on the other hand, never returned to therapy and executed the murder of Tarasoff as he had planned. At his trial, Poddar pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Psychologists who evaluated him before he committed the murder presented evidence at the trial demonstrating that Poddar wasn't in the right state of mind, because he was insane and a paranoid schizophrenic. However, he was convicted of second-degree murder and served five years in prison, until a lawyer was able to successfully appeal the conviction. Poddar was deported to India where he married a lawyer and has lived in relative anonymity, since. 

Shortly after Podder's criminal trial, Tarasoff's parents launched a civil suit against the psychiatrist and the police who had been involved in the case. The suit stated that the defendants should have warned Tarasoff directly about the threat to her safety which may have saved her life. The psychiatrists defended their actions on the grounds that they had a duty towards their patients over a private third party and the court agreed with them. After the plaintiffs appealed the decision, the California Supreme Court reviewed the case and rule in 1976 that psychotherapists have a duty to protect potential victims if their patients have made threats or behaved otherwise, presenting a "serious danger of violence to another."

In the ruling on the case of Tarasoff v Regents of the University of California, the court determined that the need for therapists to protect the public outweighed the client-therapist confidentiality clause. Guided by this decision, the state of California later implemented a law stating that therapists must put potential victims first by warning them directly, notifying law enforcement or taking necessary steps to prevent any harm. In the decades following the court's decision, the Tarasoff rule has been enforced in 33 US States. 

'Unfit: The Psychology of Donald Trump' will be available on-demand on September 1.

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