The Dark Side of Dr. Phil

in psychology •  last month 


One Show to Rule them All

In 2015, Google reported that YouTube reaches more 18–49 year-olds than any broadcast or cable TV network- on mobile devices alone. The television industry is struggling to compete, and daytime talk shows are no exception.

Despite the odds, “The Dr. Phil Show” has managed to stay so damn relevant in 2019, that it’s downright impressive. At the time of writing this, Phil McGraw is the highest paid daytime personality, and is in the midst of 162 consecutive weeks of being the highest rated syndicated talk show.

So now you may be wondering: how the Hell did he do it? Is it the show’s ability to adapt to viewing trends by posting a constant stream of click-bait to their YouTube channel? Maybe. Are viewers drawn to McGraw’s impeccably shiny head, like moths to a flame? Definitely.

But what really sets Dr. Phil apart is his uncanny ability to find the most mentally unstable people in the world and exploit them for views- all in the name of psychology. Dr. Phil has received criticism in recent years for luring vulnerable people to his show and exploiting them on live television, with absolutely no remorse. The following accusations (if corroborated) point to the fact that Dr. Phil might not be the lovable, caring psychologist he pretends to be on television.

Shelley Duvall

Shelley Duvall, best known for her starring role as Wendy in The Shining, appeared on The Dr. Phil Show in 2016 on an episode called “From Hollywood Star to Near Isolation”. A controversial promo video was released several weeks before the episode aired. In the video, Duvall says, “I loved Robin Williams, but I don’t think he’s dead.” When McGraw asked her where she thinks he is, she replied, “Shape-shifting.”

The shocking promo video led to a flurry of insensitive media regarding Duvall and her mental status: including this video by Inside Edition (stay classy guys.)

Broadcasting a single out of context statement in a 30 second clip is cruel and exploitative in so many ways. This is a woman who worked with Robin Williams for years, was extremely close to him, and is clearly still grieving his loss.
Considering the fact that McGraw has a PhD. in Clinical Psychology, he of all people should know that everyone processes grief differently.

He could have used this as a teaching moment for his audience, but instead he used it for views- all at the expense of a mentally ill woman. Actress Mia Farrow and producer Vivian Kubrick banded together in their support for Duvall, and publicly boycotted the show on social media.

Tod Herzog

Survivor winner Tod Herzog appeared on the Dr. Phil Show in 2013 to discuss his ongoing struggle with alcoholism. He was so inebriated during filming, that he had to be helped onto the stage by Dr. Phil and several other staff members.

Fast forward five years: Herzog finally reveals his side of the story. He claims he was sober when he arrived on set in Los Angeles, but was left alone with two bottles of vodka and mixers like orange juice and Red Bull. He also claims he was given a Xanax prior to filming to “calm his nerves”, stating, “this was a deliberate move to make for better TV.”

If his allegations are true, Herzog was placed in immediate danger by the producers of The Doctor Phil Show. The American Addiction Center states that, “Mixing Xanax and alcohol increases the potential that one will experience hallucinations and/or delusions or even seizures compared to when using either drug alone.” While there’s no way we can know what really went on behind the scenes, these accusations are deeply troubling.

Kaden Mahaffa

In February of this year, previous Dr. Phil guest Kaden Mahaffa sued McGraw and CBS for humiliating her on national TV. She appeared on the show with her boyfriend in 2017 to discuss the abuse he suffered at the hands of his grandmother and mother. But McGraw flipped the script during filming, and focused instead on Mahaffa’s mental health issues. During the pre-interview process, Mahaffa told producers that she feels she has supernatural powers, can communicate with the dead, read people’s minds, etc.

Such delusions of grandeur would indicate to any psychologist worth their salt that this individual is suffering from an untreated mental illness, and that the last thing they need in that state is to be exploited for cheap views.
Dr. Phil sent her to a treatment facility in Miami, Florida, where she stayed for three days before deciding to leave and return to her home in Texas.

I can’t help but think that if McGraw truly wanted to help her, he would have chosen a facility closer to her home to help ease the difficult transition of entering back into society.

“Doctor Phil is a Hollywood celebrity who uses his fame and credibility as a mental health professional to gain the trust of mentally-ill psychiatric patients, only to turn around and publicly humiliate them for the sake of good television ratings and advertising dollars.” -Kaden Mahaffa

Questionable Tactics

A teenager was featured on the Dr. Phil Show after his parents’ expressed concern about his video game habits and violent behavior. In the pre-show interview at his home, the teen insists, “I think I can solve the problem myself. I don’t think that I need to be on the Dr. Phil Show, and I think this is a waste of my time.”

While it’s obvious this boy needs psychological help, he firmly insisted he didn’t feel comfortable receiving it on live television. I believe he is old enough to make that decision, considering it could affect his life and future employment opportunities. But Dr. Phil doesn’t take no for an answer.

He claims that when this happens they involve a “transporter”. The show cuts to footage of a large man (accompanied by several other production assistants) entering the boy’s room in the dead of night, urging him to reconsider. He appears extremely uncomfortable, and rightfully so.

The episode cuts abruptly to the teen as he says, “Missing out on this opportunity is gonna be a big mistake, and I think Dr. Phil is going to be able to help me with my problems right now, and I’m very excited.” While it’s entirely possible the teen had a sudden change of heart, his words come across as forced- almost as if they’re scripted by producers.

Dr. Phil’s Ex-Wife Speaks Out

Many Dr. Phil episodes examine cheating, and how it can destroy families. With his signature no-nonsense approach, Dr. Phil convinces the cheater to face the past and turn their life around for the better. Cut to wife Robin, as she grins ear-to-ear and nods wildly in the audience- her gaze reminiscent of Pennywise the Dancing Clown before he eats a small, fat child. But really, what do I know? Her face might just be stuck like that. But all plastic surgery jokes aside (she claims she’s 100% natural…) there’s information to suggest that McGraw may be far from the perfect husband he portrays himself to be.

Debbie Higgins, a highly respected editor, went public about the details of her and McGraw’s failed marriage. She claims he was domineering, high-strung, and unfaithful.

″When I confronted him about his infidelities, he didn’t deny these girls and told me that it had nothing to do with his feelings toward me, to grow up, that’s the way it was in the world.″- Debbie Higgins
Unfortunately, Debbie Higgins passed away in 2014 following her battle with cancer, so only Dr. Phil is the only one that knows what really happened between them.

Weight Loss Scandal

In 2003, McGraw released a new line of weight loss products called “Shape Up”. He claimed that the products were specially formulated to help people change unhealthy behaviors and lose weight. The FDC criticized McGraw for not being the right authority to recommend such a product.

McGraw ignored the warnings, resulting in 3 different lawsuits filed against him. The unhappy customers claimed they saw zero results from the expensive supplements. The Washington Post reported that he reached a $10.5 million settlement agreement with the plaintiff. McGraw felt that he did nothing wrong. The product has since been discontinued.

Closing Thoughts

Please keep in mind that these are only accusations, and not proven to be true until corroborated with hard evidence. That being said, I believe everyone should do their own research on the subject. Celebrities are often put on a pedestal by their fans, and to them they can do no wrong. We must not forget that celebrities are human beings- capable of making mistakes. It’s important that we hold everyone to that standard, no matter how famous they are.

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