"Dr." Phil Demeans His Supposed Profession
> 1/25/2008 9:50:58 AM

Tired of the unfortunately lucrative celebrity breakdown news cycle? Too bad; it's not going away anytime soon, and ethics (journalistic, professional or otherwise) do not factor into our macabre fascination with the terminally troubled and those who provide us with that daily fix. But the outright self-interested chicanery of celebrity television "therapist" Phil McGraw demands an indignant response. As the American public's most regrettably visible representative of the psychology field*, Dr. Phil has a bit of an obligation to present his supposed discipline, and those who work within it, in the most realistic possible light. But his repeated contributions to the burgeoning field of speculative diagnosis, alongside unethical business and personal practices, go against every principle that could conceivably be applied to the mental health field.

Avoiding word of Britney Spears's various trials and questionable behaviors has been as easy as not breathing oxygen or wearing clothing in public. And of course every relevant tabloid/ "legitimate" new source sees the need to quote mental health experts regarding her hypothetical state; Dr. Phil is not the only guilty party. Still, his actions have been the most dramatic and detestable. Upon hearing of her recent standoff with authorities and subsequent hospitalization, McGraw decided to travel uninvited to her hospital room for an informal bedside personal therapy session. How was the famous tough-love advocate Phil able to fly so quickly to her side? More importantly, how was he to know that he was the life-coach/companion best able to soothe this former idol? We'll call it instinct. And an insatiable desire for publicity.

Unfortunately, Dr. Phil's recent tabloid anticts invite discussion regarding the nature of the patient/therapist relationship (which can only occur in the appropriate setting and with the patient's full consent). The fact that the good doctor refuses to apologize for his shamelessly opportunistic role in exploiting the circumstances of an obviously volatile young woman (does anyone seriously believe that he acted in the name of charity, especially considering the fact that he reported his "findings" to all media outlets who would listen and that the stated goal of this visit was to convince the Spears family to participate in an on-air "intervention"?) only further cements his reputation as a transparent salesman and an embarrassment to his supposed profession. His half-hearted statements of regret clearly stem from the fact that he may lose advertisers or public advocates in the aftermath. And "reaching out to a friend" hardly describes McGraw's actions, which amount to pseudo-therapeutic assault. Poring through tabloid articles and prime-time news stories regarding this most uninteresting of men is a less-than-desirable pursuit, but the act of countering media juggernauts like McGraw's requires voices of dissent, no matter how small. And his actions have only encouraged that growing chorus. Among his most grievous offenses (and there are many): his stated belief that video games led to the Virginia Tech tragedy (gunman Seung Hui Cho rarely, if ever, played video games); and his official statement of purpose, "I'm not the Hush-Puppies, pipe and `Let's talk about your mother' kind of psychologist."

The fact that he was also a supposed weight loss expert who sponsored diet plans, food products and "booty camps" bearing his (trademarked) name further illuminates his history as a bold shyster eternally sniffing out the next opportunity to expand his personal empire. Legal action very happily prevented him from peddling that particular brand of snake oil to the TV public, but he does not look to recede from the spotlight any time soon. Prime enabler Oprah Winfrey, whose judgment has been called into question before over her endorsement of pseudo-scientific trash like "The Secret," must feel at least some pangs of regret over her hoisting of Dr. Phil onto a gullible and unsuspecting public. Beliefs about her near-supernatural sphere of influence are inflated, but her ability to ensure great swaths of publicity for those in (and out of) her favor is very real. Unfortunately, McGraw's contract ensures that he will remain a malicious presence at the corners of our collective experience until at least 2014. In the meantime, many will continue their most likely futile attempts to discredit him in the public eye; complaining about Dr. Phil is about as productive as wailing over the "fat cats in Washington." But all hope is not lost, especially when one observes his public track record; if anyone can ensure this false prophet's downfall, it will most likely be the man himself. Our fingers are crossed.

*Anyone aiming to poke holes in McGraw's professional credentials need not look far: because he failed to complete evaluations required by a 1989 ethics sanction involving an inappropriate relationship with a patient/employee, "Doctor" Phil is not licensed to practice clinical psychology in any setting. Repeat: Phil McGraw is NOT a medically licensed therapist. He is, however, qualified to endorse match.com as a relationship expert (and two-marriage veteran) whose theories of positivity will undoubtedly spur millions to find true love online. He is also somehow qualified to publicly name Lynn Spears as a "great mom" despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.


Phil used to talk on a local Dallas radio station weekly until he became "famous". Then he would not return the phone calls of the radio station host, who was one of his original supporters. I thought he was opportunistic then.
URL: http://procheinamy.mu.nu
Posted by: Amy 2/1/2008 8:38:52 AM

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