By now you may have heard that Hillary Clinton is (or may be) using one or more psychologists to help her prepare for her debate with Donald Trump. This was mentioned on TV last night after it was reported in the New York Times, and is being talked about on MSNBC this morning. Her surrogate is, as I write this, making a non-denial denial that she is actually using psychologists. He didn’t come right out and absolutely deny it.
There is no doubt in my mind that any psychologist who is helping Hillary prepare to make Trump look bad during the debate wants to advise her on ways to “get under his skin” to elicit a decidedly unpresidential reaction. In order to do this he (or she) will have had to make a diagnosis of Trump based on everything we know about him. This may be why Tony Schwartz, the author of “The Art of the Deal” was brought in to be part of the team. Combine his observations of the unguarded Trump over 18 months with all we’ve seen of Trump on TV and have learned about him from his Tweets and interviews with Howard Stern, there is a wealth of information to understand how his psyche works.
From the New York Times
Hillary Clinton’s advisers are talking to Donald J. Trump’s ghostwriter of “The Art of the Deal,” seeking insights about Mr. Trump’s deepest insecurities as they devise strategies to needle and undermine him in four weeks at the first presidential debate, the most anticipated in a generation.
Her team is also getting advice from psychology experts to help create a personality profile of Mr. Trump to gauge how he may respond to attacks and deal with a woman as his sole adversary on the debate stage.
They are undertaking a forensic-style analysis of Mr. Trump’s performances in the Republican primary debates, cataloging strengths and weaknesses as well as trigger points that caused him to lash out in less-than-presidential ways.
In compiling research to help Mrs. Clinton prepare, her advisers have cast a wide net. They contacted Tony Schwartz, the “Art of the Deal” co-author, to give them advice about Mr. Trump this summer — even though Mr. Schwartz’s 18-month immersion in Mr. Trump’s life and homes ended in the mid-1980s. But Clinton advisers said Mr. Schwartz and other writers who had observed Mr. Trump up close, as well as unnamed psychology experts they had spoken to, were critical to understanding how to get under Mr. Trump’s skin.
There has been something of a brouhaha on the comments sections of the diaries I wrote using my minority view interpretation of the “never-diagnose-at-a-distance” Goldwater rule: You should feel free to do so when you believe not to do so would be unethical. Other therapists agree with me: see Vanity Fair and here.
Enough about that. I’ll never convince the naysayers here, let alone the founder of the Citizen Therapist Facebook page with 2,500 members who personally banned me from posting anything on his page discussing diagnosing Trump.
My point is that now we have one or more psychologists “privately” working for Hillary Clinton to use their diagnostic acumen to help her do something akin to what the psychologists working for the CIA did to help them find effective ways to extract information from terrorists.
There was quite a controversy in the profession when this came to light with many mental health professionals saying that basically these people were using their expertise to help torture “detainees."
The American Psychological Association (APA) has a long history of opposing the misuse of psychological knowledge in practice, assessment, research and any other activity utilizing the tools of the field [1, 2]. The APA Ethical Principles of Psychologists – Code of Conduct has long been the guide to both acceptable and prohibited behavior [3, 4], and has long ensured the proper and safe use of psychological methods. It protects U.S. psychologists, but most important of all, those who are most exposed and most vulnerable to the misuse of psychology and its tools .
In the wake of September 11, 2001 and the subsequent "war-on-terror", the APA decided to address the ethical implications of psychologist "contributions" to U.S. national security. Calling the situation an "emergency", APA President Ronald Levant authorized the APA Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security (PENS) . The task force report and process generated a number of controversies. One set revolved around the appointment of task force members who were primarily psychologists serving active military or working in some then current capacity with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) . Criticism of the task force composition grew when the identification of members revealed deep connections with intelligence gathering, detainee interrogations, and related operations within the DoD .
The ethics of interrogation and the American Psychological Association: A critique of policy and process
The operative text of that resolution, obtained by the Guardian, reads:
“The APA membership has voted to prohibit all psychologists from working at Guantánamo Bay, from the CIA black sites, and any other setting that the UN has declared to be in violation of international law excepting those psychologists who are performing no task other than offering treatment to fellow soldiers.
“Please inform psychologists who are performing any task other than offering treatment to fellow soldiers in these settings that they must immediately seek to deploy elsewhere or find themselves in violation of APA policy.
Within the profession, attention has returned to the issue of psychologist support to abusive interrogations since the Guardian reported last month that the APA declined to censure a former army reserve major and psychologist, John Leso, who played a major role in torturing Guantánamo Bay detainee Mohammed al-Qahtani, whom the US suspects of being the intended 20th 9/11 hijacker.
US Psychologists renew push for ban on assisting military interrogations
I’ve written that the diagnosis that Trump seems to fit the most closely is narcissistic personality disorder. This is something a few psychotherapists have written about elsewhere too. But the majority are using terms like "extremely narcissistic" and have even listed characteristics that define what they have called “Trumpism.” In my view they are making an end run around the Goldwater rule by saying on one hand they are speaking just as citizens, but also that they are speaking as mental health professionals, and then they basically say he walks like a duck, swims like a duck, looks like a duck, but leaves it up to you to look up “duck” on Wikipedia to see if he is a duck.
But the fact is that experts on narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) and other personality disorder which he seems to have traits of (especially anti-social personality) are the best qualified to explain to Hilary how she can trigger an outburst of what is called “narcissistic rage.”
"Narcissistic rage is the response of a narcissist to anything they perceive as a threat to their ego, their control or their power. It is usually intense, out of proportion, often random and is used to manipulate."
I wrote about narcissistic rage here www.dailykos.com/... but that essay focused on what we might expect from Trump if he loses the election. Hillary can be advised on how to trigger that rage in from for tens of millions of viewers.
Most of the popular literature about narcissism has been about how to live with narcissists in your life. There are dozens of them on Amazon. There have a comparatively few articles and books written about how to best treat people with narcissistic personality disorder. Many therapists think the disorder isn’t treatable, but others suggest that using empathy once a patient gains trust they can rework the deficits from having parents who lacked empathy and contributed to the child growing up with NPD.
According to (Heinz) Kohut's self psychology model, narcissistic psychopathology is a result of parental lack of empathy during development. Consequently, the individual does not develop full capacity to regulate self esteem. The narcissistic adult, according to Kohut's concepts, vacillates between an irrational overestimation of the self and irrational feelings of inferiority, and relies on others to regulate his self esteem and give him a sense of value. In treatment, Kohut recommends helping the patient develop these missing functions. Kohut proposes that the therapist should empathically experience the world from the patient's point of view (temporary indwelling) so that the patient feels understood. Interpretations are used when they can help the patient understand his sometimes intense feelings about any empathic failure on the part of the therapist, and understand why he (the patient) needs to restore solidity and comfort after being injured by any failed empathic (self object) ties. As insight develops, the patient begins to understand why he might experience these apparently small empathic failures so deeply.
The main characteristics of NPD are grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy (Table 1). These characteristic behavior patterns can affect a patient's interpersonal relationships and life in a profoundly negative manner. Often these patients will outwardly behave with a sense of entitlement and superiority, be dismissive of others, and often display disdainful or patronizing attitudes. However, behind these attitudes, and central to this personality disorder, are low self esteem and feelings of inadequacy. Although many patients accomplish high achievements, eventually the characteristics of this disorder interfere with both the patient's occupation and his or her personal relationships. This is because the patient often is unable to recover from criticism or rejection and also because he or she has behaved in an unempathic manner with overall disregard for others.
In an about face, the psychologist advisors to Hillary will likely advice her to do the opposite of what they’d do where they were treating him in the highly unlucky event he was their patient.
There are way that Hillary can trigger untoward, unflattering, and down-right unpresidential reactions from Trump. In fact, just his knowing she may be using psychologists may be percolating in the back of his mind and giving him pause that she will bring some ammunition to the debate that he doesn’t understand and will find it difficult to prepare for.
Mainly, though, she goes into the debate with a huge psychological advantage because she’s a woman who won’t defer to him, who isn’t intimidated by him, and certainly doesn’t find him awesome. Consider how he reacted to Megyn Kelley, and she wan’t challenging his narcissism in a debate that will probably have more viewers than the Super Bowl.
So here’s the ethics question:
If so many psychotherapists thought it was unethical for psychologists to work for the CIA at Guantanamo, why wouldn’t they give pause to someone in their profession helping Hillary learn how to “torture” Trump?
My view, on the first, the answer is a qualified “no” (but that would take a whole diary to explain. On the second, an unqualified “yes.”
Update after reading comments:
I expect readers to have a certain level of comprehension. The title was not one, but two questions. Question marks and quotation marks are there for a reason.
”Torture” is in quotes because I meant it not to mean literal physical torture, but torture in the sense of making someone feeling tortured: “a cause of suffering or anxiety: dances were absolute torture because I was so small.” The quotes should be a clue that the word is a metaphor, “a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable.”
The first question in the title was “Guantanamo redux?” The second “ was this ethical.”
My answer to the first is that it is not like Guantanamo. The ethics of psychologists helping the CIA with their torture techniques is a complex discussion — I would hope the psychologists drew the line at helping with what was called enhanced interrogation techniques and tried to stop them, choosing instead methods involving building trust and using the persuasive approaches one would sue to deprogram cult members.
As for the ethics of psychologists using the full range of their psychological acumen and grasp of psychopathology and psychodynamics to help Hillary create an atmosphere that would lead Trump to become fruited, fearful, off-balance, defensive, impulsive, or in other ways let his guard down and show how unfit he is to be president because of his temperament I offer a resounding endorsement of this as being an ethical use of their professional expertise.