A deep dive into "the cult of Dr. Phil"

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/12/31/a-deep-dive-into-the-cult-of-dr-phil.html

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Christ, what an asshole


From what I’ve seen of the show, Phil McGraw’s main goal is to aggrandise himself, his wife and their sons (and his telehealth company). Every show contains at least one distasteful performative display of power and authority, usually with a manipulative set-up sequence and usually with an undertone of “I’m the only rational man on the stage”. [caution: TVTropes link]

He also repeats the formula that got him his show, bringing on self-help experts and other people selling themselves in the same way that Oprah did for him. If I were to do a psychological analysis of Dr. Phil* I’d say there’s a lot of insecurity and anxiety underlying all that bluster.

[* like him, I do not have a license to practise as a therapist]


From watching that clip, it’s clear that he is a manipulative bully. He takes a vulnerable 21 year-old person with demonstrated issues, makes promises to get her on stage, then breaks those promises in order to “help” her. He then doubles down and essentially dares her to defy him and the studio audience by “refusing help”. Whereas actually if she did leave she would be imposing a penalty on him for not respecting her boundaries - a psychologically sound thing to do.

To me he comes off as a huge asshole, which is probably why I don’t watch shows like this.


I probably need to hire myself out to the tv industry. I think I could be, like… a dousing rod for successful things. Here is how it would work.

They would come to me and say “Okay, what about this guy? Do you feel like you want to punch him in the face?”

“Yes, yes I do. Very much so”

And they have their next super popular personality. Come to think of it, I could work for the Republican Party, too.


Does one get paid to be on that show? Because I don’t see how anyone who wants legitimate help would go on a TV show in front of a live audience to address serious mental health issues.


Isn’t this all scripted?

(let it be all scripted… let it be all scripted… let it be all scripted…)

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This is probably just another genre of ‘reality tv’, so unscripted. I’ve made my opinion known here in the past about my extreme distaste for reality tv, despite the fact there are folks here who are involved in it.

Came here to also say that wasn’t “dr” phil brought to us by Oprah? Just like dr oz? WTF? She’s made some serious blunders in the past, no?

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If Oprah Winfrey is ever called upon to account for all her earthly deeds she had better hope to have a lot of stuff in the good column to balance out giving Dr. Oz, Dr. Phil and anti-vaxxer Jenny McCarthy access to a national audience.


Correct take. They are all media whores who have a propagated pseudo-science, wishful thinking and a mass exodus from critical thinking. In many ways these people are bankrupters and murderers. Harsh…I know. And Oprah certainly does not get a pass here.


I don’t think people get paid.

At one hospital I worked at, we had a receptionist who had a daughter with behavioral issues. TBH, the family was a shitshow, and all of them should have been in therapy. Somehow they got onto one of those “My kid is out of control” Dr. Phil shows. They did the show, which they agreed was manipulative and not helpful at all. Then the weird thing is that she said that they were basically forced to sign a release to be on air that included an agreement to go back for a followup show at the discretion of the Dr. Phil staff.

She had a number of unexcused absences already, and one day got a call that they had to report in to be on the show again the next day. Impossible to get a replacement in time for her shift with that notice, she was told that the absence would be unexcused, and she would lose her job. The Dr. Phil staff told her that she had signed a contract, and would be sued if she and her daughter didn’t show for filming the next day. We told her that that was probably non-enforceable, but she went anyway. No pay for being on the show, and cost her her job (which, honestly she would have lost anyway at some point due to randomly just not showing up when scheduled).


My cousins were featured on his show as an example of a family that successfully recovered from the tragic loss of a child.

Morgan Freeman Narrator Voice: They had not.


This is painful to watch.

To me, it speaks to a psychopathy that underlies American culture. Empathy is a performance, a skill that is learned. You can win at empathy by reciting platitudes and iterating rational solutions.


The youtuber’s thesis is that Dr. Phil attacked her because she uniquely challenged him and his format. But plenty of people do that on his show. I think it’s much worse than that. I think it was just that Phil McGraw was having a “bad day.” His testiness, his irritation, his aggression does not coordinate with her supposed “offense.” (Was it finances? His son getting bad press again? His lover contacting his wife? We don’t know.) But he compensated for that bad day by disproportionately squashing his current patient like a bug, because he could, because it made him feel better.

Now that I look back on it, I think it might have been McGraw being internally conflicted over his outright lying to the guest as to whether her mother would show up or not. His solution: coerce a producer to collaborate in the lie; then, destroy the guest.


I used to know some one who wrote for Dr. Phil. There isn’t a reality TV show in the world that isn’t heavily scripted. It’s just they operate by producers telling people “say this” instead of the performers/subjects learning lines.

Even where you wouldn’t expect. Several friends of mine have been on Chopped. Their entire backstory, personality, and reason for being on the show was provided by producers. One of them was threated with being dropped from the show when they pushed back.


As horrible as Dr. Phil is, he’s hardly unique to America. This type of show is a global genre. Ever seen Argentinian daytime talk shows? They are cruel on a level that Americans would not believe.


The truth is likely a combination of your thesis and the YouTuber’s. I can see McGraw having just the kind of “bad day” you describe and getting triggered by that guest’s engaging in the very taboo act of stating explicitly that the show isn’t about helping damaged people but about making a public spectacle of them. He might have handled it differently on another day, but in this case he reacted like you describe.


Surely “Ron Howard Narrator Voice”?

But anyway, yeah, this format is clearly the opposite of good mental health care for either the victims or the audience. It’s hard to think of anything less conducive to getting in touch with your inner world than having it pulled apart in front of a loud, opinionated crowd of strangers. (Much less being part of the crowd). I mean, no one goes into a therapist’s office to find out how society wants them to act.

And if there’s no public health justification, then it’s just a straight-up Victorian freak show.


A deep dive into Dr. Phildo is impossible!

Not to mention you only get one or two minutes of “content” sandwiched between five minutes of commercials.

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