Dr. Phil peddles lies, manipulates guests for TV fame

Phil McGraw, or Dr. Phil, has committed various acts of deception throughout his career as a popular talk show host, such as setting up guests for public ridicule, promoting con artists and endorsing false advertisements for weight loss supplements. Courtesy of Jerry Avenaim/Wikimedia Commons.

As Phillip McGraw, or Dr. Phil, once stated, “Every choice you make—including the thoughts you think—has consequences. When you choose the behavior or thought, you choose the consequences. If you choose to stay with a destructive partner, then you choose the consequences of pain and suffering. If you choose thoughts contaminated with anger and bitterness, then you will create an experience of alienation and hostility. When you start choosing the right behavior and thoughts—which take a lot of discipline— you’ll get the right consequences” (DrPhil. com, “Dr. Phil’s Ten Life Laws,” 07.13.2003).

McGraw is a television personality, selfhelp guru, author, entrepreneur and selfstyled mental health expert. Currently in its 16th season, the TV series that bears his name has aired well over 2,000 episodes and has gained immense popularity over the years. In August, his show celebrated a major achievement: It has ran 100 straight weeks as the number-one rated daytime talk show on television (Broadcasting Cable, “Syndication Ratings: Dr. Phil Hits 100 Straight Weeks as Top Talker,” 08.14.2018). McGraw is, if nothing else, influential. And for good reason: He’s charming, down to earth, a straight shooter and has a talent for discussing difficult and upsetting topics, ranging from addiction to mental illness to crime, in a way that the layman can understand. He has built an incredible persona.

Sadly for Phil McGraw, however, every choice you make has consequences. If you drive drunk, you do so knowing full well that the risk is that you could get into an accident and seriously hurt someone. If you don’t study for an exam, then you implicitly accept the possible consequence of failing the course. And, if you run a beloved television series—one that provides to its viewers advice on a variety of mental health issues—and you choose to break the basic ethical code of your occupation, promote bad psychology, publicly humiliate vulnerable people and willfully put your guests’ health and safety at risk, then you choose the consequences of these actions. Specifically, you choose to be “Dr.” Phil McGraw, a fake psychologist and host of a pop-psychology program that actively hurts its guests and its viewers. Like McGraw, I believe you choose the consequences of your actions—he has made his bed; now the time has finally come for him to lie in it.

First, it’s important to understand that Dr. Phil is not a real doctor. While he does have a Ph.D. in psychology and used to have a license, he is no longer a licensed psychologist and cannot legally practice in the state of California, where he lives and films his show (Everyday Psychology, “Is Dr. Phil actually a psychologist?” 01.29.2008). Why did he leave the profession? We’re not sure, but his career was marred in 1988 by serious scandal. Sara Jane Morrison, a 19-year-old client of McGraw, alleged that he carried on an unprofessional sexual relationship with her, would touch her inappropriately and intentionally kept her “totally dependent” on him (Salon, “Who’s your daddy?” 11.25.2003). The Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists investigated the accusations, along with claims that McGraw inappropriately provided her with part-time temporary employment while still carrying on a therapeutic relationship. Their findings never referenced the accusations of sexual misconduct, but they did discover that McGraw sustained an improper dual relationship with Morrison by acting both as her therapist and employer. The Board issued him a letter of reprimand, assigned a psychologist to monitor his practice and required him to take an ethics class and a complete psychological evaluation (Casewatch, “Disciplinary Action against Phillip McGraw, Ph.D.,” 12.12.2009).

Whatever the reason may be, Phil McGraw is no longer a licensed psychologist, nor has he been for some time. McGraw told the American Psychological Association that he does not see himself as his guests’ therapist, and he does not consider what he does on his show to be psychology. He also doesn’t claim that his show is a serious substitute for therapy. He acknowledged, “We do not labor under the false impression that we are doing an eight-minute cure.” Instead, he believes that the series’ primary goal is to let people know that it’s okay to treat problems and get help and deliver understable information about how to live one’s life (American Psychological Association, “Behind the scenes of the Dr. Phil show,” 10.2006). That’s a fine goal, but Dr. Phil’s show regularly exploits people with serious mental illnesses and disabilities for financial and entertainment purposes. He humiliates his guests, many of whom he and his staff put in physical danger, as exemplified by the case of Kaden Mahaffa.

In 2019, Mahaffa filed a lawsuit against Phil McGraw and CBS after what she deemed to be a disastrous appearance on the show. According to the lawsuit, Mahaffa appeared on “Dr. Phil” in 2017 to seek help for her boyfriend, who had been abused by his family. Instead, after finding out in a preshow interview that she had been suffering from significant mental health disabilities, the show spent much of its time making fun of her mental health issues. Mahaffa now accuses McGraw of aggressively interrogating her and inviting the audience to laugh and jeer at her, causing such a significant mental breakdown backstage that she was involuntarily committed to a mental health facility. Mahaffa claims that she still deals with harassment as result of the show to this day (Courthouse News, “Dr. Phil Guest Claims He Exploited Her Mental Illness for Profit,” 02.08.2019).

“[Mr. McGraw is a] powerful 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,” argued Mahaffa. Her lawyers also stated, “Any reasonable person—let alone a clinical psychologist like Defendant McGraw—would immediately recognize that Ms. Mahaffa was a mentally-ill individual in crisis, not someone to be exploited on a national TV show” (Courthouse News).

This blunder is bad, but it is far from the most high-profile case of Phil McGraw exploiting someone’s mental health disability for his own benefit. In 2016, McGraw’s show tracked down famed actress Shelley Duvall, most well known for her work on films such as “The Shining” and “Popeye.” However, it became clear during their conversation that Duvall’s mental health had been deteriorating. The interview got slammed by the public for exploiting her mental illness for cheap laughs and ratings, and many people demanded that McGraw apologize to Duvall and her family. Vivian Kubrick, the daughter of Stanley Kubrick, wrote that the show was, “purely a form of lurid and exploitive entertainment.” Journalist Ronan Farrow tweeted seven times about the interview, which he called “shameless” (Variety, “Dr. Phil Shelley Duvall Interview Prompts Criticism for Exploitative Entertainment,” 11.18.2016).

In addition, his treatment of addiction is also horrendous. In one instance, Todd Herzog, a former winner of the hit reality television series “Survivor,” appeared on McGraw’s show in 2013 to discuss his drinking problem. However, he was so drunk that he had to be carried onto the set and lifted into a chair. Before you wonder why a supposedly trained psychologist did something so cruel as to put a man too drunk to walk on national television, first consider the horrendously immoral and unethical actions that led to this situation. According to Herzog, he was set up: His dressing room came with a full bottle of vodka. After drinking all of it, a staff member supposedly handed him a Xanax, which he took before he came on stage. Herzog also claimed that, when he appeared on the show again in 2014, he once again found vodka placed in his dressing room (STAT, “Dr. Phil says he rescues people from addiction. Others say his show puts guests’ health at risk,” 12.28.2017).

McGraw, of course, denied the allegations, but the claims are backed up by staff accounts. Leah Rothman, who accused McGraw of locking employees in rooms and screaming at them over leaks to the media, said that, “His primary interest was not about helping people on the show, but rather, done for the sake of ratings and making money. Dr. Phil often embarrassed guests on his show in their darkest hour, leaving the staff to pick up the pieces of the broken people who had put their trust in Dr. Phil” (STAT).

In another case, Kaitlin King-Parrish appeared on the show in 2016, hoping that McGraw would help her with her heroin addiction. As a six-months pregnant mother, she expected the show to provide her with medical supervision for her detox. Instead, she was left to fend for herself. When Kaitlin tried to go to the hospital, she didn’t receive any attention from medical personnel, and ultimately left after waiting for four hours. Then, a “Dr. Phil” staffer accompanied Kaitlin as she went into the city to buy heroin. Before the show, staffers told Kaitlin’s mother not to question what McGraw tells her. If she did, they warned her that McGraw may not provide her daughter the services she needed to recover. So, she shut up and let herself, her daughter and her unborn granddaughter be manipulated by a predator (STAT). McGraw abused his power over an addict and her family for ratings, and in doing so put not just Kaitlin’s life in danger but also the life of her unborn daughter.

That doesn’t even scrape the surface of the accusations of misconduct and bad psychology that have followed this man throughout his career. In 2012, he promoted the “psychic medium”—otherwise known as a fraud who exploits grieving people, kind of like our good friend Phil—John Edward on his show (Dr. Phil, Skeptics Beware: The Psychic Intuitives Are Here,” 08.02.2012). In 2003, his weight loss supplement line, “Shape Up,” resulted in a class-action lawsuit against him as well as an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission for false-advertising (Los Angeles Times, “Class Status Sought for Dr. Phil Diet Case,” 08.03.2005). In 2008, a staffer for his show bailed out a Florida teeanger who brutally beat up another girl and posted the video on YouTube, just so that she could appear on his program (NY Daily News, “Dr. Phil staff bails out Florida girl charged in videotaped teen beating,” 04.14.2008).

In the era of of the #MeToo movement, it is time to call out all kinds of predators. McGraw is a predator, one who preys on vulnerable people who look to him for guidance. He likes to tell his guests that they choose the consequences that come with their actions. Well, Phil, let’s look at your choices and your behavior throughout your long career. You chose to engage in an inappropriate relationship with a client, and thus, the consequence of getting yourself in serious trouble with Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists. You chose to make a career humiliating mentally ill people on live television, and therefore chose the consequence of leaving them with emotional scars that may never heal. You chose to put addicts in serious danger, and chose the consequence of causing them severe injury. You chose to feature John Edward on your show, and thus the consequence of supporting a known swindler. You chose to peddle a fake weightloss supplement, and thus chose the consequence of a class-action lawsuit and federal investigation.

Phil McGraw has chosen to make the world a worse place. He has chosen to make a career exploiting and hurting people. In turn, we need to choose what the consequence for his actions will be. Will it be 16 more years of success, fame and money? Or, will it be finally getting what has been coming to him for a long, long time?

40 Comments

  1. Bullshit! Dr. PHIL is liget and this angry beaver needs to get a life. Trying to make money as a victim doesn’t work in this era. Liar! LIAR!

    • All you have to do to find out how big a fraud Dr. Phil is is Google his name. I appreciate your opinion,, But you are the one full of bullshit !! Not the author of this very factual article !! John

      • I am working on my Ph.D. and I can tell you Dr. Phil is an embarrassment to the field. In his most recent episode, he suggests a 14-year-old, who was accusing her father of sexual assault, is lying. Whether the allegations are true or not, the way he handled it was unprofessional. He is no more than a talk show host. He claims to be an expert in forensic psychology, addiction, etc. and he is a complete fraud. Even the idea of using a lie detector test is ancient. Someone isn’t continuing their education.

      • It’s true. It’s sad because those who are wounded and hurting gravitate towards a strong personality who claims to have the answer to their problem. Vulnerable people are trusting him, when he is nothing more than a swindler and a fraud. His concern is for how he can make the most money. Not how he can actually help people to heal

    • I can’t accept the opinion of somone who can’t spell the word “legit”. You’re not a smart man are you Forrest? What the hell is a “liget”? Fuckiing self righteous dummy.

    • Sherry you are why the Dr show still survives. Ligit isn’t correct..it’s legit …trailer park trash that continually watch his show while soaking up his garbage is why this show has success…ya know, I’m just being “ligit” about it…not a LIAR!!!!!

  2. Dr. Phil reminds us on his show that the notion that we should give other people the “benefit of the doubt” is outdated and naive. I am a big fan of Dr. Phil’s but I only know him by what’s portrayed on his show. The suggestion of ethical misconduct is not without merit. I am familiar with the episodes featuring the guests that are described and I have to admit that “anything is possible.” But I for one will be crushed if allegations are proven and made public.

  3. Dr. Phil can not take it if any guest on his show has a voice or questions what he is saying. He expects everyone to sit down and shut up and take what he is saying without question. If someone is seeking to get better, no matter what issue they have, there is nothing wrong with asking questions about the advice being given, in fact, they should ask questions if need be. The woman on the show on April 19, 2019
    “I Treat My Pet Pigs Better Than My Noisy-Eating Fiancé” was trying to explain herself in a very civil way and Dr. Phil kept making her into a villain while also encouraging the audience to side with him…watch his facial expressions. I can’t imagine making a client who has come to me asking for help feel bad, they are there for help, so maybe try focusing on that. He also shamelessly plugs his wife’s skin care line, who is so full of injectibles, it’s hard to believe her products work.

    • I thought the same thing (4/19/2019) as he treated that woman with no respect but only venom. I will not be watching Dr. Phil anymore. It is not only sickening but don’t think there is any room for more commercials, podcasts, Dr. on Demand, The P and P Center, Skincare by his wife, His book, and now stuck on the lifecoach of Demi Lavado who just relapsed and almost died?? He is on almost every other day. He treats his guests terrible and seems to always challenge them lately with all of his credentials while lecturing them. “I have been doing this for 40 years”… as he ( I have noticed especially lately), name drops all of the celebrities he is “good” friends with. Now he has that stupid Podcast! He is so rude! Too bad he can’t get back to the basics although I think at this point..way too late. Former viewer!

      • I always loved dr phil amd his show but o too have become aware of how he treats people sometimes and i have never herd of any of the things i Are you at in this article today but I’m going to try to do some research and find out if he done all of these things starting with the first one heaven being accused of sexual misconduct and I don’t wanna have anything to do with him but I don’t believe in those psychics I do believe that they are frauds and I always wonder why he had them on. Its a shame he is like the doctors show Are used to watch them because they seem so smart and then every time I turn on the damn TV one of them bastards is trying to sell some bullshit product so the doctors show is bullshit also everyone on here on TV is all for sales they trying to promote products and i cant trust anyone trying to sell me something for they are all for self gain

  4. I‘ve gone from watching every episode per season, when he started in 2002 to only watching 5 episodes of his 2016-2017 season, and haven‘t watched a single episode in two years. As for exploiting guests, his staff actually put an alcoholic guest in a hotel room with a minibar! “Dr” Phil is nothing but an exploitative ratings-whore

  5. And why doesn’t he look his guests in the eye when he’s telling them what’s wrong with them and what they need to do about it? I was always told you can’t trust a person that won’t look you in the eye when they’re talking to you.

    • I wonder the same thing!. He stares at the floor and gropes for words which is annoying and makes me wonder if the teleprompter is there on the floor. And the most amazing thing is the hundreds of commercials that fill up his show. No time for real content, only ads. Every 40 seconds he us saying we’ll be right back or “right after the break” IRRITATING TO THE MAX!

  6. I googled “Does Dr Phil really help people ? “ And got this site. I’ve watched every episode (yes, really!) and recently, have begun to wonder about the results. Perhaps some are helped post show and that is a good thing.

  7. I wrote to Dr. Phil about the disorder misophonia that I know I suffer from and actually got a response but I didnt end up responding bcuz I watched an episode where this woman felt she had it too and he was suck a dick about it. I personally get very emotional when I talk about my disorder bcuz it has made my life so horrible and I wouldve died if I went on to be treated the way she was. I mean she was sort of a bitch about it and acted as if it was everyone else that just ate gross or made weird noises so I can see why he was a dick but I’m not like that at all. I feel bad for my family having to deal with me that i try so hard to just suck it up and a part of me feels Dr.Phil is only an ass if the person is acting all high and mighty BUT unfortunately I’m not a 100% sure he wouldnt be an ass to me and its not worth the risk to find out.

  8. Just watched him for the last time. An episode on people who fall prey to romance scams. Then he has a sponsor saying all her years of knee pain went away with a topical ointment. Then he put a middle aged guest on that is self conscious of the bags, wrinkles, and sagging jaw line. So he invites a salesman for No.7 craftily saying the guest will see a noticeable difference in one week. While the salesman never said her wrinkles and jowls would go away, she cleverly and intentionally misled her. Not ethical especially after the theme of watching out for scams. Why is he using his audience to sell products? Why does his show only have 8minutes of subject matter, and 52 minutes of advertising, and repeated parts? Why don’t more people kick him to the curb? Because he lures you in with sensational exploitive personal situations. The guests are victims and so are we! Duped in the name of entertainment

    • McGraw is as sick as the guests on his show!
      Watching him enable that 28 yr old crazy daughter and attack the Mother tells all!
      I guess its ok to physically attack her mother
      You idiot McGraw, you are exactly what you accuse your guests of Smug. Narcisistic. cocky sarcastic attitude!
      Get over yourself McGraw, you are not even qualified to give advice!!

  9. After watching today and saying,” This is the absolute last time I will EVER watch this garbage”, I come across this article. I was looking because I thought maybe it was just me! How does this show stay on???

  10. His wife is Anorexic. They both make me sick.
    Wonder how the children react to him?

    • I know Robin looks terrible and remember the cameras put on 5 lbs. She is false also. It looks like she has had plastic surgery. I don’t think there is anything wrong with plastic surgery l. But my problem is that she acts like she takes care of her skin and that she would never do surgery! She use to be pretty. You can recover the years that she was not happy with her looks!

  11. Dear Dr. Phil,

    I’m writing you because my mother is addicted to your television program and doesn’t realize that you are a wolf in sheep’s clothing… That you’ve pulled the wool over her eyes by manipulating her like so many into believing that the nonsense you shove down their throats is informative and helpful.

    She believes you are a saint and doesn’t notice that you are just preying on her with your garbage peddling infomercials that serve only to make you, your wife, your friends and your network money.

    Let’s face it, your only expertise is exploitation. Your only goal is to capitalize on the messed up, ill-minded, and/or naive masses. It’s a fantastic con, you are obviously super successful you remind me a lot of another egomaniac, our sitting President Donald Trump the biggest difference being that he’s more honest. How incredibly sad is that?

  12. Did you really just use the Kaden Mahaffa episode as a way to help prove your point about Dr.Phil? That lady is a con artist, and is brainwashing her boyfriend.

    For people that don’t know the story, it basically goes like this:

    Kaden claims to have died 7 times, and after she died in 2002, she came back to life and woke up with psychic abilities. She claims to have came back from the dead being able to speak French, and read ancient texts. She also claims to have x-ray vision, can see broken bones, and previous broken bones, in people, can see footsteps from other people, and can see spirits. She can bend metal, and can hear people’s thoughts before they speak them. She claims to be a retired ICU nurse, and a counselor.

    Because of all these things, she decided to write a book, and start a project called “Mama Trauma.”

    One day, she put an add on Craigslist for people to help her move. Matthew (her now boyfriend) was one of the guys that showed up. I don’t know how they began their relationship, but this is how they met.

    Sometime after they started dating, she convinced Matthew that she was psychic and could see all these things, and then convinced him that he was molested by several people when he was a young boy. She then diagnosed him with what she claims as a disorder that she created called, “Homie In the House Of Mirrors Executive Syndrome.” She claims that this disorder manifests in a suicide attempt, and that people with this disorder are granted savant abilities.

    When Kaden met Matthew’s mom and grandma, she told them all about the issues she discovered that Matthew has using her psychic powers, and how Matthew was molested as a child, and how she’s treating him for his conditions since she’s a counselor. The mom and grandma got suspicious about her claims, and started asking questions about her certifications as a counselor. Kaden got upset and started threatening them, and out of nowhere, Kaden and Matthew packed up an RV and left the state.

    Kaden doesn’t let Matthew speak to his family, because Kaden made him believe that the grandma and mom are abusive to him, and don’t care about him; mainly because they don’t believe in her powers and the stuff she claims, and because the family won’t send them money. She tells the mom to send them money, but when the mom refuses because Matthew is an adult and is perfectly healthy to work, Kaden starts threatening the family. She even told his mom to go commit suicide. Kaden then makes Matthew panhandle for money, and takes pictures of him doing it so she can send them to his mom. She also claims to speak to Matthew’s deceased grandpa, and claims that he loves her, and is guiding her.

    The reason why Dr. Phil questioned her even though the family is there to help Matthew is because Dr. Phil is trying to find out if there really is something wrong with Matthew, or if Kaden is making all this up because she’s mentally unhealthy. When everything that the boyfriend says is wrong with him, is coming from what the girlfriend is telling him, then he’s, Dr. Phil is going question her. When she claims to have all these credentials in the mental health field and have psychic powers, he’s going to find out if she’s legit or a fake. The episode flipped from the boyfriend to her, because the problem isn’t the boyfriend; it’s the girlfriend. Dr. Phil also gave her every opportunity to prove that she is actually legit, but she couldn’t prove anything.

    The truth is, Kaden found somebody that believed all the stuff she was talking about, so she wanted to keep him to herself so she could practice all her stuff on him. He was her science experiment, and almost like her personal slave, and she was his master, so she didn’t want to lose him.

    This show was about helping Matthew, and the only way to get him help was to expose Kaden as being a fake and a fraud. Kaden was destroying his life, and he needed to get away from her ASAP. She is no different than all these people that say they have a cure for cancer, and then scam a desperate victim out of all their money.

    Anyone can prove me wrong if they want.

    And yes, she does need help, but she’s not the victim. Lastly, Dr. Phil didn’t force her to go on his show.

    • Ok cool but dr.phill is still in the wrong about everything else and if you disagree your just a fan boy who cant see the truth

      • That is ridiculous to say someone is a fan boy (or fan girl) because they have a differing viewpoint. Probably the most close minded comment I ever heard. If you disagree with me…who cares.

  13. Dr.Plil was my favorite show. I started feeling that the way he would be looking at the floor or the bottom of the chair that his guest we’re sitting in, but not looking them in the eyes when he is addressing the advice he’s giving them.
    I thought this was not right.
    As I was looking at my phone this morning, wow, Dr.Phil was all over my news alerts . Started reading it, and ended up saying what all of your comments are saying.
    I just can’t believe it.
    Opera must be proud of his progress, NOT!! IF it wasn’t for her I wonder where he would be today?

    • Opera (sic) and Phil had a little war of rights before he found his was and then they buried the hatchet. Now he’s on her OWN channel. Its all show business. Money is only thing that matters. She doesn’t care, i doubt.

  14. I personally enjoy watching his show. It’s Television people! Entertainment like the rest of today’s crap television. Don’t like him, turn the channel and watch the fake news!

  15. I I don’t know what’s true and what’s not but I don’t watch the show anymore and haven’t for over 4 years. The reason I don’t watch the show is because of the way he treats his guests and the way he promotes himself and his products and his books over and over again. Everything that he is involved in is promoted on that show. On today’s show it was mixes for drinks that his son along with some other people are selling. I just couldn’t believe it, I don’t watch the show I just happened to wake up and it was on the TV and I was too tired to look for the remote. It was nothing but a 10-minute advertisement.

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