Why I Can’t Stand Dr. Phil
People with diplomas, degrees, and doctorates can still do a lot of things wrong.
“This is gonna be a changing day in your life.”
I heard that line during the opening of The Dr. Phil Show for years on end. I heard it so much that I not only got sick of it, but grew frustrated with it. The line aimed to show the selflessness and determination of the show’s host, Dr. Phil McGraw, a psychologist from the Great Plains who rose to stardom through the vast influence of Oprah Winfrey. But ever since I was in elementary school, this message has resonated with me in a very different, and negative, way.
When I was younger, my mom was an aficionado of mid-afternoon television. The Dr. Phil Show happened to be one of her favorites, so I would often sit and watch it with her after I came home from school. Most of the time, I didn’t remotely understand the people’s problems or follow along during the show, but The Dr. Phil Show still always left me wondering the same thing:
“Why would a therapist want to share his patients’ problems with the entire world? Doesn’t that do more bad than good?”
Forget the myriad of waivers and consent forms that I’m sure guests of The Dr. Phil Show sign before appearing on the air. Rather, try to analyze the show’s core concept like a morally-minded fifth grader would. Is it ethical for a therapist to share critical, often embarrassing details about personal hardships on television? My answer was, and always has been, no.
It’s not difficult to recognize that the basis of The Dr. Phil Show is completely flawed on a psychological level, particularly for those who have gone through therapy themselves. I’m not a psychologist or anywhere close to being one, but according to the American Psychological Association, confidentiality is a “respected part of psychology’s code of ethics.” Exploiting people’s problems on national television for monetary gain doesn’t exactly align with that fundamental notion of confidentiality.
Keep in mind, I’m not making the claim that The Dr. Phil Show is doing or has done anything against the law. Guests have to make their own decisions to come on the show, and nobody is forcing them to do so by any means. But what stings is that Dr. Phil, a man with a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, ignores the governing credo of the American Psychological Association by not only promoting, but also profiting off of sharing people’s personal issues with the viewing public. Dr. Phil, as a psychologist, should be encouraging his clients to speak about these issues in private, not convincing them to make their troubled situations as public as physically possible.
To make matters even worse, The Dr. Phil Show often plays dramatic, trashy videos to provide expositions for people’s lives before they’re discussed between Dr. Phil and the guest(s). These clips, stitched together by The Dr. Phil Show’s staff, are crafted disturbingly similarly to in-show videos of the same kind on programs such as Maury and The Jerry Springer Show. All three shows utilize heavy, theatrical soundtracks and suspenseful zooming in these exposition pieces. To think that these three shows are even comparable, considering Dr. Phil’s level of education and qualification, is astounding and disturbing.
Admittedly, I forgot about my detest for The Dr. Phil Show for quite a long time. It wasn’t until recently, when I saw an ironic and bizarre clip from an old episode, that my issues with the show were resurrected. A man who goes by the name Ty Beeson appeared on The Dr. Phil Show to discuss his online video production known as Bumfights. This inhumane and sickening web series featured homeless folks performing grotesque, dangerous, and harmful stunts for money. The premise behind Bumfights was and still is absolutely horrific, and Dr. Phil showed his displeasure by cutting the pre-made exposition video short and kicking Beeson off of the show before even speaking with him.
The weirdest part about this stunt was that Dr. Phil had to know Beeson’s story beforehand, but yet decided to remove him from the stage during taping. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that Beeson came to the studio that day dressed exactly like Dr. Phil, down to the finest details. Or perhaps this was an attempt on Beeson’s part to not only mock Dr. Phil, but to suggest immoral parallels between Dr. Phil and himself.
In an act that further supports this suspicion, Beeson said something to Dr. Phil as he left the stage that, regardless of Beeson’s deplorable business and horrid online videos, made some sense to me as a longtime critic of Dr. Phil:
“If you think I exploit people, every time you bring a guest on this show, you exploit them and spread whatever problems they have to the whole world. You think that’s helping them?”
Let me be abundantly clear. Beeson’s business was and is disgusting, inhumane, and flat-out wrong. The levels of wrongdoing between Ty Beeson and Dr. Phil are in completely different universes. But, based solely on basic principle, did he have a point as he was being escorted off the stage by the show’s security? I think so. Both Beeson and Dr. Phil make their livings by exploiting people for money, just to varying degrees.
The Dr. Phil Show also has a lengthy history of trying to artificially increase the drama and ‘guest craziness’ featured on the show. In an article on this issue from The New York Post, a woman named Maryanne Bodolay alleges one of the show’s producers wanted to record videos of people making fun of Bodolay for her weight. The same article details how a representative from The Dr. Phil Show paid the bail of a girl whose story they were following. After being called out for this, The Dr. Phil Show apologized and opted not to continue with the story. But creating exaggerated, shocking videos for dramatic effect? Using money to get your way? Doesn’t this make Dr. Phil at least somewhat hypocritical in his criticism of Ty Beeson?
There’s no doubt that Dr. Phil and his show have done some positive things for his guests. But the fact of the matter is that this support is coming at the price of confidentiality, exploitation, and embarrassment, which is a large price to pay for a person going through mental, physical, or other personal problems. Dr. Phil should be the first person to recognize that, but unfortunately, it seems as if fattening his wallet takes permanent priority over upholding moral standards of counseling and psychology.