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Gaining Ground's Staff Blog

Depp vs Heard and the Ethics of Testifying

Adrianna Beck

During the Depp vs Heard trial there has been much talk about diagnoses for both parties. In particular there was a lot of expert testimony surrounding Amber Heard’s diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder and Histrionic Personality Disorder. 


In testimony given earlier this week by a psychiatrist, Dr. Spiegel, was brought in to even the playing field and speak on a possible diagnosis for Depp. 


In his testimony Dr. Spiegel spoke about Depp showing narcissistic personality disorder traits and insinuated that Depp has marked cognitive impairments.He stated that Depp showed symptoms consistent with a substance use disorder as well as stating that he demonstrated behaviors that were consistent with being a perpetrator of intimate partner violence. He stated this while endorsing a level of medical certainty that his findings were accurate and valid. 


Upon cross examination Depp’s legal team asked about the ethical implications of these findings. Dr. Spiegel stated that his findings were sound and proven by his own data collected. Through the cross examination it was shown that Dr. Spiegel had not done a comprehensive evaluation of Depp, in fact he had never actually met Depp. Dr. Spiegel had come to these conclusions through watching testimony and deposition in other legal proceedings as well as other notes from other providers. 


As well as admitting that he had not done comprehensive evaluations to come to these diagnoses Dr Spiegel also stated that he did not follow the ethical guidelines set forth by the APA, our governing ethical body. He stated that since they are guidelines they do not require strict following rather you can take them on as guidance if you so choose. 


Now, as a provider watching this testimony I was taken aback by how blatantly this doctor was willing to state that he had come to these findings in a non ethical way and then shared them in court as proof. The diagnoses he is proposing are hefty and carry with them stigma that is far beyond what is understood in court. 


Ethics is what guides us as providers. We take an oath to do no harm to our clients, provide non biased and comprehensive care, and to make sure we work under ethical guidelines. Guidelines are not suggestions, they are shields for our clients. By completely disregarding ethics in this case Dr. Spiegel has gone beyond what it means to be a provider, he has lost his expert status in my mind. 


By diagnosing Depp without meeting him or performing a comprehensive evaluation then it can be said that his diagnoses are invalid. This is what is known as “armchair diagnosing.” Without proper evaluation and without proper procedure you cannot get a full diagnostic picture of the individual you are diagnosing. As clinicians we learn to evaluate all aspects of a person before looking to diagnose. No testimony video or deposition or prior clinical notation will provide that insight. 


The implications of this seem to be small but to me as a person who does not take diagnosing lightly it is impactful. For a doctor, an expert in his field, to come into a public arena and state that a public figure has narcissistic traits, cognitive decline, and intimate partner violence perpetrator behavior is serious. These diagnoses and traits all imply that Depp is a violent, distrubed, and mentally ill man. These diagnoses could impact his home life, his intimate life, and his career. 


This is why acting within the code of ethics and practicing in a comprehensive manner is so important. We need to do right by our clients by evaluating their whole being, not what is just shown on a deposition in a courtroom.