I have to wonder how helpful it truly is to be playing armchair psychiatrist, when you’ve never personally interviewed the person under discussion. Imagine all the things we could just hypothesize about any celebrity, based only upon a snippet of their public behavior (a snippet we carefully choose, of course).
There’s a profession that does something like this. They’re called publishers, and they publish tripe such as “Us Weekly” and “Star” magazine. They take a piece of gossip and write an entire story based upon nothing more than speculation, imagination and hype.
So I found it more than a little disappointing (but perhaps not surprising) to find a representative of the mental health profession, Dr. Keith Ablow, on Fox News Sunday night doing just that. He spoke during a “Medical A-Team” segment where a group of doctors talked about the vice-presidential debate.
Should a psychiatrist be discussing differential diagnoses of the Vice President of the United States — especially if they’ve never even met the man?
Of course, he prefaces his comments with a standard disclaimer media doctors often try to use to make it sound more ethical:
“I did not evaluate Joe Biden…”
Well, if you did not evaluate Joe Biden face-to-face, and you apparently know nothing about him (Dr. Ablow later claimed Biden’s blood alcohol level should also be checked, although it’s well-known that Biden doesn’t drink alcohol), what are you doing babbling about him on national TV?
Here’s the clip:
Now, tell me if that fits within the spirit of the American Psychiatric Association’s ethical principles:
3. On occasion psychiatrists are asked for an opinion about an individual who is in the light of public attention or who has disclosed information about himself/herself through public media. In such circumstances, a psychiatrist may share with the public his or her expertise about psychiatric issues in general. However, 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.
Dr. Keith Ablow acknowledges he’s never seen Joe Biden in a professional capacity. Yet, Dr. Ablow is discussing differential diagnoses about Biden as though he had. He’s suggesting specific psychiatric diagnoses to examine, without any knowledge or history of Biden’s medical or psychiatric background.
Instead, he’s doing it based on a single, solitary public performance. Would anyone feel comfortable being judged by a medical professional like Dr. Ablow based upon a single incident like this?
I should take all of the public interviews Dr. Ablow has given on Fox News, and in a purely hypothetical exercise, determine what sets of diagnoses we should consider giving him. I will be quick to say, “I’ve never examined Dr. Ablow, but… here are a set of differential diagnoses we should consider for him.”
But I won’t, because I don’t believe we should be playing armchair psychiatrist or psychologist or whatever from afar in this manner. It does nothing to help illuminate the debate, or to offer any actual insight into a person’s behavior. If anything, it only brings attention to yourself.
And perhaps that was the goal all along.
Read the full article: Fox News' Dr. Keith Ablow: Joe Biden May have Dementia
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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 15 Oct 2012
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.
Grohol, J. (2012). Forget Biden. Dr. Keith Ablow May Have…. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 7, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2012/10/15/forget-biden-dr-keith-ablow-may-have/