I watch Dr Phil.
There. I said it.
And I’m not ashamed.
He’s not that bad!
I know what most of you are thinking: “OMG.”
I know. I thought so, too. I thought, ugh, daytime TV. Talk about lowest common denominator and all that! Never. Ever. Just–no.
I assumed that it was for middle-aged housewives who salivated over drama and just wanted to watch one big real-life soap opera. I thought it might be a “Jerry Springer Lite”. I thought it would be cheesy and trashy.
During one of the many nights where Insomnia Strikes Again, I found myself awake at 3 or 4 in the morning. And I found myself flipping through cable channels.
There was hardly anything on. In fact, Dr Phil was it. Everything else was infomercials and stuff like Tosh.0, whatever the freak that is.
I knew next to nothing about Dr Phil, but I did know that he at least spoke proper English.
I gave it a whirl. With nothing to lose and no other options, I landed on that channel in the Cable Guide and hit the “OK” button. And I must confess, I kind of prayed.
My insomniac “prayers” were answered! Here he was, engaging in meaningful, fact-finding dialogue, with guests that were made to look as though they had more dignity than some of them might have otherwise deserved.
I don’t remember the topic of the first show I watched. I don’t recall any of the guests on that show. But I do remember thinking to myself, hey–this isn’t all that bad! In fact, it’s kinda good.
He was talking sense. He wasn’t trying to offer a quick fix. He wasn’t treating them with disrespect or goading them into fighting with each other. He wasn’t simply sitting back and saying, “and how do you feel about that?”
Instead, he was asking carefully-worded, intelligent, probing questions that got to the meat of real issues. He was helping the people connect the dots between past traumatic events and current dysfunctional situations. He was being logical and impartial, dotting his “I”s and crossing his “T”s.
I wondered what would happen at the end, and I was impressed to find out that not only was he not chewing these people up for his own gain and spitting them out when the show was over, but the truth is quite the opposite: he hunts down the best-qualified and most appropriate ongoing therapy facility for their situation, and he sends them there after the show–on his dime.
I was impressed. No other talk show host has ever done that, to my knowledge.
Everything he said, I pretty much agreed with. It made sense. My often-black-and-white-oriented brain found itself nodding affirmatively inside my skull.
I started out as a skeptic who knew little. In a fairly short time (and I’m tough to convince), I became a regular viewer.
People, including myself before I had actually watched the show, see Dr Phil (who really is a “Dr”; he has a PhD) as a cheesy psychotherapist and clownish daytime TV talk show host. But–and I speak from experience–that’s the impression of Phil from someone who knows little and has jumped to conclusions before doing one’s homework and actually giving him any kind of chance.
I’m glad I gave him the chance.
He’s not perfect. He’s human. He’s also Texan, and hasn’t tried to mask that fact. He’s also quite wealthy (entirely self-made, by the way–no Trust Fund Baby here). All of these attributes make him an easy target for criticism.
Truthfully, I don’t agree with everything he says. There are some things he says to which I respond with, “really? Come on, Phil”, but they’re pretty few and far between.
And have I mentioned yet that I have a hyper-critical mind that can pick apart and find fault with practically anything? Because I do. For example, I’m a salesperson’s worst nightmare because there’s nothing they can say, no tactic they can use, to manipulate or persuade me; if I have no use for their product or service, or I do but it’s not top-quality for a fair price, then I’m not game. I find myself scoffing and retorting in response to practically every TV or radio commercial. I’m an INTJ; therefore, I’m impervious to fluff or dressing-up of any kind.
I’m also not the type to watch TV talk shows, nor any kind of daytime TV, for that matter.
So, I’ll tell you why I like and watch Dr Phil.
1 – He talks sense. Logic reigns supreme.
He doesn’t use nor adhere to much pop psychology at all. He doesn’t attempt to cure people in the last eight minutes onstage. He doesn’t go in for the quick fix.
He attempts to uncover all of the applicable facts. There are some very sensitive details about the guests on his show that he’s aware of beforehand but does not elaborate on publicly. He doesn’t go in partial or pledging allegiance to one side or the other from the git-go. He doesn’t just air everyone’s dirty laundry and laugh all the way to the bank.
He gives people the reality check they need. He connects the necessary dots.
He often says that the people on his show are teaching tools for the viewers. I actually buy that. People on his show have issues that other people in this country are also going through. Watching his show, I feel like a student; I have learned a shit-ton.
2 – He treats his guests with dignity.
He might have the lowest of the lowest, child-molesting piece of shit sitting next to him (say, on a show in which the topic is adult women confronting their molesting stepfathers), who may be guilty as hell, but if they’ve never been convicted of the crime, Phil will use terminology like, “[Woman’s name] says that she was touched inappropriately by her stepfather” or “her stepfather allegedly did [X]”.
Sure, that’s for legal reasons, of course; you don’t want to go on record accusing someone of something they’ve never been charged with or convicted of.
But when Phil starts to question the alleged guilty party, he treats the person with objectivity and respect–not slander or libel or anything. It’s “innocent until proven guilty” on the show, just in case the memories are false (which has happened on that show, too).
When someone’s innocence or guilt is in question or doubt, Dr Phil will offer–and pay for–a polygraph test (known commonly as a lie detector test), administered by one of the best polygraph administrators in the world.
He also treats the innocent guests with dignity. If he uncovers a piece of extra-sensitive information during a pre-show interview, he won’t go there during taping. He also maintains as much anonymity as possible, offering to get them help in “your state” or “your town”.
He’s surprisingly nonjudgmental, which I admire. He’s also not afraid to call a spade a spade, which I also admire.
3 – He offers to get them help – and he pays for it!
Phil has located some of the best facilities (I’ve checked them out; I’m a doctor myself, hyper-critical, and I’m impressed!), for all kinds of ailments, ranging from mental illness to biochemical imbalance to addiction recovery to rebellious adolescents to sexual assault/abuse, and sooooo much more. Some are even “dual-diagnosis treatment centers”, where they can handle–and effectively treat–someone who is both severely depressed or bipolar and has a substance abuse problem/addiction.
At the end of almost every show, he offers all guests involved the help and support that is best-suited and most appropriate for them. And we’re not just talking a freebie introductory consultation, either; we’re talking weeks, months, or a year or more, of ongoing care.
And this offer isn’t just made in hopes of digging up fodder for future shows, either. Phil has more than enough of a supply of people writing in, begging and pleading to be on the show. He occasionally does updates on previous guests, but that isn’t as often as one might think. When he does, he has been known to include success stories and not-so-successful stories.
He spends about $27 million a year, every year, on ongoing professional help for guests who’ve already been on the show and probably long-forgotten by the viewers.
4 – He does his homework in preparation for every show.
When Phil selects guests for a show, it’s not just a case of “oh, this looks good; let’s call them up and fly them out here!”
It doesn’t work that way.
What he does is assign staff to interview those potential guests and uncover facts, all off-screen. They interview everybody involved, get the perspectives of every person, and obtain any supporting documentation. If the police have been called to a domestic argument, the show employees will obtain the police report. If there have been court proceedings, they’ll obtain those documents. If there are applicable medical details, then the show will obtain those–with the person’s permission, of course.
What Phil doesn’t do is make stuff up, embellish any stories, or wing any details. They’re very thorough, with detailed questionnaires, pre-interviews, background investigation, and so on, all consented to by the potential guest.
5 – He’s got a medical advisory board.
This medical advisory board currently consists of 16 members, with backgrounds in a diverse range of specialties: sociology, psychology, human physiology, nutrition, spirituality, neurology, relationships, and so on. They’re up on most of the latest research and scientific evidence regarding their fields. Phil runs everything past this board during preparation for the show, making sure that he has the latest accepted facts in subject areas involved in the various situations covered in the show.
6 – He has brought to light many of the “silent epidemics” in this country.
One of the major motivating factors in starting the Dr Phil Show 15 years ago (and counting) was the desire to start talking about topics that, up until then, had been silent but epidemic. And he wanted to do so in a non-sensational, compassionate, dignified, and constructive way.
He dove in with both hands, not afraid of getting them dirty if necessary. He started talking openly about these topics–topics like abuse, rape, molestation, and so on. He started posting the phone numbers of hotlines and giving women tips on how to escape their abusive partners. He started talking about men who are abused by their female partners, too; I learned that 1 in 9 abuse victims is male. One out of every 9. I hadn’t realized that the number was that high.
He started airing shows about adolescents and young adults with overblown senses of entitlement. He started talking about young children and teenagers with mental illness. He’s trying to end the stigma, slowly but surely.
Like I said, I don’t always agree with Dr Phil. I’ll probably write a separate post on that in the future. But I probably agree with about 96-97% of what he says and does, which is a staggeringly high figure for me.
I had never watched a show on the Oprah Winfrey Network before, and I hadn’t been looking to start, nor do I watch much else on that channel. I really felt like I was taking a chance when clicking on “Dr Phil”. But in the end, I’m glad I took that chance and gave Phil that chance. I think that ultimately, the world is a much better place because of his work.