Reality bites for Dr Phil

3 minute read

Guest melts down on stage because their meds are withheld? That’s entertainment!

If your Back Page correspondent were to nominate the leading causative factors in the downfall of modern Western civilisation, the advent of reality television would be an odds-on podium contender. 

While the genre has been around in various formats since the 1940s, the concept really began to take off in the 1990s as the explosion of satellite and cable TV channels spurred an unprecedented demand for content that was both very cheap to produce and inexplicably popular with viewers. 

One of the early success stories was the US-based Dr Phil show, which features clinical psychologist Phil McGraw and his moustache giving mental health advice to various guests.  

McGraw got his start as a guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show in the 1990s. He obtained a doctorate in clinical psychology back in 1979, but has not held a licence to practise since 2006. 

While “Dr” Phil may never have practised medicine, you’d think when giving himself that ambiguous title he might adhere to medicine’s original guiding principle, “first, do no harm”. 

But given deeply disturbing reports from Buzzfeed News, this may not be the case.

Current and former employees of the Dr Phil show have aired some significantly soiled laundry concerning how the show treated its employees and guests, including a particularly egregious example where staff were instructed to “withhold medication from a guest on the show to play up the entertainment value of a segment”. 

Yes, you read that right. According to the reports, on one occasion a former employee was allegedly instructed to make sure a guest didn’t take her prescribed psychiatric medication in order to create more sensational television.? 

“We were specifically instructed, ‘Make sure that she doesn’t take her medication before she goes onstage,’ because they wanted her to look unstable and, quote-unquote, ‘crazy’, for lack of a better term,” the employee told BuzzFeed.

While the guest in question did actually take her medication before appearing on the segment, it beggars belief that a TV show would prioritise the dubious “entertainment value” over the guest’s actual mental health. 

Such was the allegedly toxic nature of the workplace environment at Dr Phil’s, staff report they feared for their own mental health. Who says the Americans don’t understand irony? 

It is important to point out here that these reports are allegations only, and that lawyers for Dr Phil “categorically deny” the show tolerated or encouraged racist, abusive and unethical behaviour. Also, staff say they never witnessed Dr Phil personally engaging in these behaviours, but they do suggest he knew what was occurring and turned a blind eye.     

We may never find out where the truth lies in this sorry saga, but the whole drama would make a great reality TV series, don’t you reckon? 

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