This is Part 2 of a two-part series. Part 1 can be found here.
It appears that I am not alone in my criticism of, and concerns about, media psychologists who speculate about an individual’s mental health or issues. In August, I discussed a story out of the U.K. that quotes from the ethics code for the British Psychology Society. And just yesterday, I discovered Dr. Gary Wood’s blog. Wood is a U.K. social psychologist who has extensive media experience and who has also blogged about this problem. He, too, believes that a psychologist shouldn’t be speculating about the private lives of celebrities.
But he goes even further in another blog entry where he writes:
I tell them that I don’t talk about celebrities lives as it’s unethical. I don’t know what’s going on in the minds of celebrities and neither do the two-bit hacks who cough up pithy insights for self-aggrandisement. My refusal comes as a shock, even for the producers I routinely work with. It’s become so normal to gossip about celebrities that it’s difficult to get the point across! Psychologists should not be gossiping and speculating on the inners works of people’s minds! If they are clients then it’s confidential, and if they are not clients then they have no insight anyway.
I’ve read of so-called reputable psychologists (read ‘gossipologists’) offering mental health diagnoses of celebrities. I’ve also seem them discussing the mental states of celebrities’ young children. Nothing they say is ever meaningful and it’s certainly unethical. It’s gossip, plain and simple! The fact that someone has a degree in psychology or a PhD in ‘the social impact of jogger’s nipple’ does not mean they have any valid insight into the mental state or deepest motivations of any celebrity.
Psychologists should abide by a common set of values that shouldn’t be prostituted for a one-liner in ‘Celebrity Life’ magazine. Surely these values should be higher than picking over the bones of skeletons in celebrities’ closets.
While it’s nice to know that at least some fellow psychologists on the other side of the pond agree with me that psychologists should not engage in such commentary, and I know that a number of American psychologists agree with me, I wish even more American psychologists would speak up on this issue. If for no other reason, it is our professional image that gets harmed when the public gets the idea that psychologists gossip, form opinions based on inadequate assessment, or will tell all to the media.