Without hearing the title sentence spoken verbatim, I think we as counsellors have all been in a situation where we have been asked very specific questions with very specific details for the sake of a friend of a friend and their mental well-being. It is a difficult spot to be in. So difficult that, what we as counsellors do about it, goes back to Watergate, you know, the thing that made Richard Nixon (“Tricky Dicky” if you will) resign his presidency. More specifically, the “Goldwater Rule” is the informal name given to the American Psychological Association’s guideline that it is unethical for a psychologist to offer a diagnosis in the media of a living public figure they have not examined (American Psychological Association, 2003). How Nixon gets involved is during his presidential candidacy and also during the era of Watergate numerous psychologists and psychiatrists publicly diagnosed Nixon without ever setting clinical eyes on him.
So, what does this have to do with getting asked a counselling-type question for a friend of a friend? Simply, I think the Goldwater Rule should be extended to any living person a counselling therapist has not clinically assessed. Setting boundaries is crucial to not finding ourselves behaving unethically. My friends are getting pretty used to hearing me say, “Well I can’t actually evaluate this person, and if I had, I wouldn’t be able to tell you, but maybe there’s some general information about _____ I can give you?” I can tell by their facial expressions that I am probably not giving them everything they want from me, but I am bound by our code. As a Canadian Certified Counsellor (C.C.C.), I mentally sneak the Goldwater Rule into the sections pertaining to confidentiality, evaluation, and assessment.
There is a plethora of different situations where the maintenance of this boundary is crucial for family, friendships, relationships, parenting, and it goes on. Truth be told, sometimes the hard part of this boundary is not enforcing it with others, but with ourselves when a clinical insight springs to mind mid-dinner, conversation, observation, minding a friend’s child, and the list goes on. Times like this lead me to question the boundary between being my personal and professional self. Often what comes is the type of self-care that gives me release and the ability to “shake off” the sense of murkiness that inevitably comes. While we all likely have a great prepared statement to help us immediately get out of these situations, we will continue to be challenged by the questions, concerns, and care of others close to us. I wish us all grace through these challenges.
American Psychological Association. (2003). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct. Retrieved from: https://www.apa.org/ethics/code/
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA