Is Dr. Phil Losing it?

Unmistakably Liz 2008/04/18 19:03:41
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The Doctor Is Out (of Touch)
Symptom: Two high-profile fiascoes and a career of dubious decisions
Diagnosis: Dr. Phil doesn't have a license or a clue
By Barbara Card Atkinson
Special to MSN Entertainment

Maybe it's awful to kick a walrus-mustachioed man when he's down, but I am all for the recent public backlash against Dr. Phil. His producers bailed out one of the teens jailed for (allegedly) violently attacking a Florida teenager, in exchange for an exclusive interview with her, only to backpedal in the face of public disapproval. This boundary crossing is just the latest in a string of Dr. Phil's missteps; it's high time we all admitted that the good doctor is out -- out of touch, out of step and sometimes almost out of his homily-riddled mind.

Dr. Who?
Phillip Calvin McGraw, best known as Dr. Phil, hit the airwaves as Oprah's golden boy in 1998. She seemed to enjoy his straight talk and the way her audiences responded to his no-nonsense approach. It was refreshing, at first, to listen to a shrink who gave advice free of psychobabble buzzwords; he was even a little folksy, some homespun, gingham-aproned Freud. This is the guy who said, "Sometimes you make the right decision, sometimes you make the decision right." Adorable, right? Of course, he wasn't really a shrink, and he hasn't seemed to take his own advice. McGraw has a history of not making the right decisions, nor has he done much to right them.

Doc in a Cheap Suit
It's a sad fact that, these days, many a high-profile "personality" is going to have at least one good lawsuit lobbed his or her way, but Dr. Phil seems to repeatedly provoke lawsuits. The Texas attorney general investigated him for a possible health club scam in 1973. McGraw sold expensive lifetime memberships to a health club in Topeka, Kan., and resold the contracts to a financial institution, so the members had to keep paying whether the club existed or not. According to the court papers, three different Topeka banks sued him for more than $40,000, but he never showed in court and monies were never recovered. He had moved on to Texas, where he obtained a doctorate from the University of North Texas and began to practice psychology.

In 1989, the Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists imposed disciplinary sanctions against McGraw for what was deemed an inappropriate "dual relationship." McGraw admitted he hired one of his clients, a 19-year-old woman, to work in his office (can you say "breach of ethics"?), but denied her claim of a sexual relationship. The board ordered McGraw to pass a jurisprudence exam, undergo a psychological evaluation, take an ethics class and have his practice supervised for one year. Did he make amends and make it right? Well, as of 2008, no. Nineteen years in, and he still hasn't met the board's conditions. His license to practice psychology was revoked and, from that point on, he has not been licensed to practice psychology at all. As the man himself has noted, "Failure is no accident."

McGraw, who said, "We teach people how to treat us," exhibited poor judgment again when he decided to feature convicted murderer Laurie "Bambi" Bembenek. Bembenek was scheduled to appear on the "Dr. Phil" show in 2002 to clear her name. It didn't go well. She later filed a lawsuit against Dr. Phil and more than 50 of his staffers for, she said, being held against her will in an apartment with no way to contact the outside world, while awaiting potentially show-stopping, name-clearing DNA results. Bembenek claims the forced confinement led to a panic attack, which drove her to escape by climbing out a window. She fell and shattered her leg, which later had to be amputated below the knee. Despite whether Bembenek was detained against her will, one wonders at the "stinkin' thinking" involved in allowing an emotionally fragile, convicted murderer to become so agitated that she felt her only recourse was to shimmy down the outside of a building on a bed sheet ladder.

In 2006, Dr. Phil was named as a co-defendant (along with CBS) in a lawsuit filed by two brothers in relation to the Aruban disappearance of U.S. citizen Natalee Holloway. McGraw hired a private investigator to interview the Kalpoe brothers. They claimed they were recorded without their knowledge and the material was doctored, but later broadcast as being a true representation, portraying them "as engaging in criminal activity against Natalee Holloway ..."

Sure, maybe McGraw's involvement would break open the case as the one tactic that had so far eluded the combined forces of the U.S. and Aruban officials -- a trained television host.

Daddy Issues
McGraw has long been an outspoken critic of pornography. Eyebrows were raised, then, when he stood as the best man in his son, Jay's, 2006 wedding to Playboy playmate Erica Dahm; the elder McGraw even hosted the wedding at his Beverly Hills, Calif., mansion. Against porn? Fine. Supportive of his son, regardless? Terrific. Altering his "Dr. Phil" Web site to remove all of his comments about porn right after the fact? Umm, "What in the hell were you thinking?"

In January 2008, McGraw's behavior motivated a psychologist (an actual one, with a license and everything) to lodge a complaint with the California Board of Psychology, alleging that Dr. Phil was practicing illegally when he visited Britney Spears at Cedars-Sinai. McGraw was, reportedly, counseling Spears as well as inviting her to join her family on his stage for an upcoming televised intervention. After his unannounced hour-long visit, he made several long-winded statements on his show about Britney's mental state, which really chapped the family spokesperson. Whether he was honestly trying to help or just looking to snag an exclusive, one is tempted to repeat his own words back at him yet again: "The quickest way from A to B is not always at the most feverish pace."

Testing Patience
Who hasn't Dr. Phil ticked off? Thelma Box, a former business partner, alleges that McGraw sold his stake in Pathways, their self-help company (started in 1984), an entire year before he told her. Box also insists she co-created and co-authored the materials used in Pathways seminars, material that McGraw uses today in his show, but she has never been given any credit.

Even the fairly unflappable residents of Los Angeles' Wilshire neighborhood have raised arms against McGraw. His Dr. Phil House was an actual house back in 2006, but multiple film crews, trucks, cables and the numerous wandering, addled, addicted, and just plain nutty guests all culminated in too many complaints. They were forced to stop shooting on-site; the show is now actually shot on a soundstage, not on location (although the exterior of the house is still shown in episodes).

And now this: Last week, Dr. Phil had his producers bail out Mercades Nichols, one of the six teenage Florida cheerleaders accused of beating another girl, videotaping it and posting the footage on YouTube. Nichols signed an exclusivity contract with McGraw's people, allegedly in exchange for her $30,000 bail. In light of the public outcry, producers have since announced they made an error in judgment and they have no plans to go forward with the show. Dr. Phil has yet to make his usual half-apologetic public statement, although now might be just the time for McGraw to heed his own advice: "If you want more, you have to require more from yourself."

The inappropriate bail, on the heels of the Britney fiasco, may be why there are growing rumors that Oprah wants nothing to do with the not-always-so-good doctor; there is also talk that McGraw and his wife, Robin, are on the outs. There are plenty of folks with reason to be upset. After all, "Anger is nothing more than an outward expression of hurt, fear and frustration."

Physician, Heal Thyself
McGraw has been remarkably savvy at reinventing himself every time his plans ended at a career dead end and/or lawsuit. He's made a number of business mistakes and personal gaffes, but, hey, so have most folks at his level of success. Of course, not many "lifestyle and relationship experts" have proven to be so generally, well, inexpert. When was the last time you saw Dr. Ruth or Dr. Joyce Brothers so consistently in the tabloids? Even dingbat Dr. Laura hasn't left such a trail of lawsuits and professional enemies in her wake.

Maybe the problem isn't McGraw and his stern-talkin' daddy-tude; maybe the problem is that people are listening to him as if he's got a clue, or at least more of a clue than the rest of us. All facts point to the contrary. Just glance at McGraw's personal life (read his unauthorized biography, "The Making of Dr. Phil," for details about his never-mentioned first marriage and early company dealings); look at his business track record. Or take it from me. Just like Dr. Phil, I'm an unlicensed unpsychologist, and my advice to you, in classic Dr. Phil speak is this: "That dog really, really don't hunt."

Barbara Card Atkinson is a frequent contributor to MSN Entertainment.

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  • jenlduu 2009/10/19 03:23:39
    Liz, thanks so much for getting the truth out about Dr. Phil. I had no idea his license was taken away. I did realize though that he is just a up beat version of Jerry Springer. No reputable psychologist would bring their clients on television to treat them in from of millions of people. No good psychologist would ever think of breaching their patients privacy in order to make a buck. I think he has harmed a lot of people permanently.

    Second, his wife Robin is a little robot that follows behind him. Sorry but I have seen to many women like that and have been there myself. The good wife standing behind her man while he has a career and she supports him but has no real life of her own. I think it is a total chauvinistic statement when she when she meets him after the program and walks off into the sunset with him. It is such a act to me the two of them. I have seen the so called perfect couple before and after 35 years of a very good marriage I can tell you there is no such thing.
  • tictac08 2008/11/21 02:58:07
    Whatever!!! He helps alot of people!!! and has practical advice....
    Just cheap shots thats all this is!
  • sickone 2008/08/11 19:19:55
    and oprah is to
  • fireware0062 2008/07/16 18:51:40
    fucked outta his mind!!
  • MadHatter 2008/04/24 06:05:46
  • Roxie 2008/04/21 18:21:10
    Gr Phil never hd IT!
    And I'm sora sick of his little wife Robin too!
  • jenlduu Roxie 2009/10/19 03:25:35
    Yeah the little perfect wife bit can make you wnat ot up chuck.
  • Deanna 2008/04/19 18:32:20
    He lost it a long time ago, his ego is over-inflated

  • jenlduu Deanna 2009/10/19 03:27:50
    I can beleive he has lost his license. Using your patients to make a buck and get publicity is not in the hippocratic oath.
  • Espresso 2008/04/19 17:50:52
  • StarrGazerr 2008/04/19 16:36:55
    Tough question - since he never had it in the first place, I suppose the answer should be no, but assuming he had even a little of it ever, he definitely has lost it by now.
  • Gracie ~Gun Totin' Gracie~ 2008/04/19 07:02:39
    Gracie ~Gun Totin' Gracie~
  • sojo 2008/04/18 19:20:40
    He lost it a long time ago when he sold his soul to Harpo, Inc.
  • jenlduu sojo 2009/10/19 03:29:24
    Yes ge sold his soul and ability to care abut the people who come to him for helps so he can use them to make a buck and get the ratings.
  • kimmpossiable 2008/04/18 19:20:06
    Seems like all the facts are there, some I new some I diddn't...
  • ~BINK~ 2008/04/18 19:17:58
    not losing but lost
  • Studied 2008/04/18 19:16:36
    In my estimation, Dr. Phil never had it. It was Oprah who made Dr. Phil, just like she did with Obama.
  • Dave**Gay for Girls** 2008/04/18 19:12:34
  • jenlduu Dave**G... 2009/10/19 03:35:53 (edited)
    No decent psychologist would bring people into his office for a 10 minute cure. You can't put a band aide on a problem. Nor can you help people by broadcasting their private lives to the whole world . Do you notice that he says he is going to revisit people but you never get to see the actual results of his so called help. If you do it's only because the person got real outside help. Come on people real psycholists don't put a band-aid on a problem and send you home nor do the tell you private intimate problems to the rest of the world.

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2016/02/09 11:57:08

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