Feb 24, 2022
By H. Steven Moffic, MD
The Ukrainian invasion has begun. What does this say of Putin?
PSYCHIATRIC VIEWS ON THE DAILY NEWS POP-UP
If you are a psychiatric professional, you have probably been asked questions like this one that I received last night as the Russian invasion of Ukraine began: “What in the world is in Putin’s mind?” However, if you are a member of the American Psychiatric Association, you have the ethical “Goldwater Rule” to consider, which has been a matter of recent discussion on Psychiatric TimesTM. This principle prohibits speculating on what is on the mind of a public figure like Vladimir Putin.
However, once upon a time not too long ago, we did have a psychiatrist that analyzed such political figures. That was Jerrold M. Post, MD. I wrote about him for Psychiatric TimesTM in the article titled “A Psychiatrist for Our National Security: Jerrold M. Post, MD.”1
As the article discussed in detail, Dr Post did work for the Central Intelligence Agency, leading their behavioral analysis endeavors for our government. Such requests to psychologically profile world leaders are ethically allowable under the Goldwater Rule as long as the results are not made public by the psychiatrists. Nevertheless, Dr Post also did speak out publicly about the risks as he saw them of certain world leaders, including books on our own presidents Trump and Clinton.
In an article by Newsweek, “Putin is ‘Playing Madman’ to Trick the West,” fittingly published in 2015 on April Fool’s Day, Dr Post spoke publicly about Putin.2 Previously, the Pentagon had provided a diagnosis of Putin in 2008, concluding that Putin had Asperger’s Syndrome. In that 2015 article, Dr Post is quoted as saying that Putin. “…sees himself as a current-day tsar who’s responsible for Russian-speaking peoples. But the person who’s most important to him is Putin, not the Russian people.”.
The author writes that Putin’s steely surface is the result of being bullied as schoolboy. Dr Post goes on: “He took up martial arts so as not to be pushed around by other kids. We’re seeing the same behaviour in his leadership.
The author comments that nuclear warheads may be the psychological equivalent of a schoolboy’s judo skills.
Hopefully, President Biden has been using some psychological advice for his understanding of how to respond to Putin. If Dr Post was correct, then similar strategies to addressing childhood bullies are called for, which might include not appearing to be weak and frightened, and not to humiliate the bully so as to allow a face-saving end to the invasion. Clearly, what has been tried so far is insufficient in stopping the invasion, loss of lives, and widespread trauma.
I do not know what ethical principles the mental health professionals in Russia and Ukraine use in a situation like this, but a colleague wondered whether they can—and should—respond to their governments and emphasize adverse consequences for the mental well-being of its citizens and patients.
Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues relate to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric TimesTM.
- Moffic HS. A psychiatrist for our national security: Jerrold M. Post, MD. Psychiatric Times. December 7, 2020. https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/view/a-psychiatrist-for-our-national-security-jerrold-m-post-md
- Braw E. Putin is ‘playing the madman’ to trick the West. Newsweek. April 1, 2015. Accessed February 24, 2022. https://www.newsweek.com/2015/04/10/impeccable-logic-behind-putins-madman-strategy-318529.html