Do You Need a Psychologist to Tell You Trump is Crazy?

Everyday people are perfectly capable of drawing their own conclusions.

Posted Jan 22, 2018

geralt
Source: geralt

Psychologists like arm-chair diagnosing Donald Trump. They’ve been doing it pretty regularly for a couple of years now. Of course, most of them have never met the man, much less conducted a formal psychological assessment of him. Yet many are quick to tell you the guy is mentally ill. They want you to know he is truly disturbed. Depending on which psychologist you ask, Trump has got narcissistic personality disorder, or antisocial personality disorder, or maybe a touch of early onset dementia. The exact disorder doesn’t matter that much (psychologists aren’t that good at reliably distinguishing disorders anyway). But trust us, they say. Trump’s definitely got at least one disorder. Their point? Without psychologists around to raise your consciousness, you won’t realize that our president suffers from severe psychopathology. To put it in language you're sure to understand: The man is nuts!

I'm being a little flippant just to grab your attention (did it work?). Actually, psychologists aren't unanimously in agreement over the wisdom of diagnosing the president. On the Psychology Today website alone there has been a plethora of pro and con “Trump is dangerously disturbed” blog posts. Some argue that psychologists have an ethical duty to use diagnosis to warn the public about the president; failing to do so is to collude with an abusive state. Others disagree, contending that diagnosing Trump violates the Goldwater rule. Although the rule technically is only binding on psychiatrists, its defenders maintain that all mental health professionals (psychologists included) should abide by it, thereby refraining from diagnosing people with whom they haven’t conducted a clinical interview. Finally, still others argue that saying Trump is unfit to hold office because he’s mentally ill inadvertently stigmatizes the mentally ill and unfairly implies such people can't handle the demands of public office. Nevertheless, as of today nearly 70,000 mental health professionals have signed an online petition advocating that Trump be removed from office due to mental illness.

All the various and sundry arguments pro and con are fascinating, but I have a very basic question:

Does the public at large really need a bunch of mental health professionals to tell them that Donald Trump may be ill-equipped for the presidency?

Seriously. Are mental health professionals the only people who have concluded that Trump is really bad at his job? That he behaves impulsively? That he bullies and antagonizes others? That much of his behavior is disrespectful and inappropriate? That he is corrupt? That he is a chronic attention-seeker? That he isn’t open to feedback? That he never admits he’s wrong? That he regularly lies?

I ask because as far as I can tell, if there were no mental health professionals around, lots of people would pretty much be concluding these things anyhow. What new insights are psychologists and other mental health professionals really bringing to the table here?

Humor me for a moment, but I have an even more basic question:

Do psychologists really have greater insights into President Trump than everybody else?

Do we psychologists really know something about Trump that the average layperson doesn’t? Sure, we might diagnose him as a “malignant narcissist” or as being “cognitively impaired,” but are we really confident that when non-psychologists describe him as “self-centered” or “not very bright” that they aren’t catching onto the same basic ideas?

Finally, one last question:

Do the opinions of psychologists carry more weight than anyone else when it comes to assessing President Trump’s fitness for office?

If a psychologist says Trump is a narcissistic personality, but a layperson says he’s not, whose opinion wins out? Well, if you don’t like Trump, I’m guessing you side with the psychologist. But why do we assume that all psychologists are of one mind about the president? Would we side with the psychologist (and there is more than one of them out there) who says Trump isn’t mentally ill at all? Or do we now prefer the view of the layperson who, albeit unsubtly, argues that Trump is “effing crazy?”

Seems to me that psychologists diagnosing Trump is no different than anyone expressing an opinion about the man—just in psychologists’ case, they use their fancy diagnostic language to lend more credence to their argument. I worry about the dangers of using diagnostic language for political purposes. It might eventually help those who want Trump out of office succeed, but who’s to say that the same tactics won't be used to undermine a future politician they like? Using diagnosis for mental health purposes, such as psychotherapy, is one thing. Directing it toward political ends is quite another—and may be a lot trickier (and potentially more dangerous) than the psychologists enthusiastically pushing it as a means to dump Trump may be aware. 

Do we really want to court these dangers when most people are able to evaluate Trump as president without a psychologist spoon-feeding them what to think about the guy? I'm not so sure.