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David Baxter

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NAMI BLASTS CBS FOR TELEVISION MALPRACTICE
September 30, 2004

"Dr. Phil Primetime Special" Insensitive, Irresponsible; May Put Children’s Lives At Risk

Arlington, VA—NAMI (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill) today charged CBS Television with gross irresponsibility and potential endangerment of the lives of children with mental illness as a result of its September 22 broadcast of the Dr. Phil Primetime Special: Family First.

"Not only did the show represent a breach of professional ethics, but also, in the opinion of many, malpractice," declared NAMI executive director Michael J. Fitzpatrick, in a letter to CBS Chairman & CEO Leslie Moonves, co-signed by Suzanne Vogel-Scibilia, MD, a child psychiatrist who chairs the Child & Adolescent Policy Subcommittee of NAMI’s national board.

In the September 22 program, parents essentially were blamed for "what may very well be the severe mental illness of their child." Dr. Phil’s conduct "is serious enough to warrant investigation by a relevant board of licensure. To the degree that he seemed to offer a definitive diagnosis, including a pharmacological assessment, without careful evaluation or referral, he may also be subject to legal sanctions for practicing medicine without a license," the letter noted.

"The show was especially troubling because the child’s behavior may have suggested symptoms of bipolar disorder, requiring treatment vastly different from a father being admonished to spend more time with his son to ‘go fishing.’

"Blaming the family undermines all recent understanding of the biological basis of brain disorders and is not only insensitive, but also hinders a family or individual from seeking comprehensive treatment…Indeed the impact may have put children’s lives now at risk. The show’s approach was completely contrary to the recommendations of the U.S. Surgeon General, and more recently, President Bush’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health…in addressing the needs of children with severe mental illnesses—including very real risks of suicide."

NAMI also responded to a Newsweek (October 4) article in which a CBS spokesperson was cited as saying the network was "unaware" of negative reaction to the show, and that Moonves had complained that interest groups protest before even seeing supposedly offensive programming, using the internet to "magnify and trumpet" concerns. In this case, NAMI said, the mental health community "carefully considered the content of the show before registering any complaint, and the party that has grossly ‘magnified’ irresponsible behavior is CBS, through the power it projects over the airwaves."
 

sammy

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"Blaming the family undermines all recent understanding of the biological basis of brain disorders

I didn't know that was the 'recent' understanding...
I thought that unless there is physical evidence of brain trauma or damage or disease... the opinion would be that mental illness/disturbance is nature (chemical imbalance?) possibly precipitated by 'nurture'- (not necessarily parents), or at least contributed to by 'nurture,' (or more to the point, lack of it).

I didn't realise that the ''current'' thinking is that it is all biological.
 

David Baxter

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sammy said:
I didn't realise that the ''current'' thinking is that it is all biological.
I suppose it depends on how one interprets the statement -- i.e., in a certain way, every thought, feeling, and action is reducable to a "biological" process -- also, to say that "brain disorders" have a "biological basis" does not imply that "nurture" does not play an equally important role.

I would agree that the biological component ("nature") is reflected in basic temperament and certain predispositions (strengths or vulnerabilities), all of which interact with "nurture" to determine what will ultimately be expressed and under what circumstances.

But I do find Dr. Phil worrisome. People respond to him as if he were an authority (which he may well be off the air, for all we know) -- he is an entertainer -- he is a packaged-for-television product. One should take Dr. Phil in the same way one takes horoscopes, tea leaves, and tarot cards: fun, amusing, interesting, but let's understand that it's all just for fun and entertainment. The problem is, he has that "Dr." in front of his name and his style of entertainment is presented as authoritarian advice. If he were to call himself "Dear Abby Junior", it would be more acceptable.
 

David Baxter

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Mental health advocates blast Dr. Phil

Mental health advocates blast Dr. Phil
Saturday 2nd October, 2004
Big News Network.com

U.S. mental health advocates criticized Dr. Phil McGraw for telling parents on TV their son had nine characteristics of a serial killer.

National Alliance for the Mentally Ill officials suggested McGraw, a licensed psychologist, may be guilty of malpractice for his diagnosis of a 9-year-old who exhibited violent behavior shown in his Sept. 22 CBS primetime special, the Washington Post reported Friday.

McGraw told the boy's parents the family's dysfunctional behavior contributed to their son's actions rather than a mental health condition.

Dr. Phil's conduct is serious enough to warrant investigation by a relevant board of licensure, the organization said.

Hundreds of families also contacted Families Together in New York State to complain about the TV program, with the organization issuing a news release to counter McGraw's advice.

This child clearly needs a thorough evaluation by a trained children's mental health specialist. Never once did Dr. Phil suggest an evaluation or provide information about supports available to this family and child. Instead, he used this as an opportunity to blame and shame parents of a child in need of help, the release said.
 

Buddhatech

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I thought that in general when someone is seeking help whether for themselves or the child one of the objectives is to avoid assigning blame to anyone and instead work on a plan to improve behavior patterns and the way people react to one another in a manner which encourages possitive reinforcement and invites emotional growth.

The whole "It's my Dad's fault I can't get up on time and go to work" kind of thought process is still around?

Thats really disturbing. I have watched Dr. Phil in the past and have agreed on some of the things he has said and some I personally have thought were horribly wrong.

Maybe certain standards should be in place for shows that offer any medical advice/treatment whether mental or physical that require the shows to pay for a secondary outside opinion (from a Dr. of the patients choice) before they can have guest on air and once again after they have been on the show.

I think what scares me is that these people often fly there to be on a show for advice. Some perhaps can't afford a doctor locally. Then they get home and no follow up is ever done by anyone.
 

David Baxter

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Buddhatech said:
Maybe certain standards should be in place for shows that offer any medical advice/treatment whether mental or physical that require the shows to pay for a secondary outside opinion (from a Dr. of the patients choice) before they can have guest on air and once again after they have been on the show.
I must confess I watch little TV and I've never seen his show -- I did see him a couple of times on Oprah (I know... don't ask...) so I know his style. And I agree that at the very least there should be prominent warnings that the show is intended as entertainment and should not be considered a substitute for face-to-face meetings with a therapist.

I think what scares me is that these people often fly there to be on a show for advice. Some perhaps can't afford a doctor locally. Then they get home and no follow up is ever done by anyone.
Again, an excellent point. If his advice has done damage to an individual or family, there may be little or no opportunity to corect what he has done.
 

Ash

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A few months ago, I received an email from CHADD which was a letter they had sent to Dr. Phil showing what he got right and what he got wrong.

It's sad because mental illness is still stigmatized and it's so reckless to give the wrong information or advice.
 

rjc7394

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They are right. He caters to mainstream society who are holding jobs and are all in committed relationships. He tells everyone to get their act together, stop bitching, act like a man and move on. Or, if you can't give people and family around you attention then you've got some kind of serious problem. And if you're self esteem is lacking then you've got serius work to do.
People with mood disorders (which is a lot) have trouble doing these things and getting by on a daily basis. He's never addressed how people like this should cope with life. I sent him an email concerning this and never got a reply. What: Xanax, Zoloft and Paxil are some of the most prescribed medicines in this country? Why can't he address this and give some of these people a hand?
 

David Baxter

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Because he is an entertainer. And whatever he says on Oprah or his own show should be viewed as such.

I don't know if he ever was a competent or effective therapist but he hasn't been in a long time, and like most "stars" I think his ego is starting to go to his head...
 

ThatLady

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I rarely watch television, so have seen very little of Dr. Phil. However, I'm highly sceptical of any advice given to troubled people on a TV talk show. The whole concept is ludicrous, as far as I'm concerned.

I must say, though, I rather like his oft-said comment: "And, how's that working for you?". ;)
 
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I saw the previews of the show about the little boy that Dr. Phil kept saying had the characteristics of a future serial killer over and over. And then they would show a shot of the boy. I thought it was extremely irresponsible.
 

^^Phoenix^^

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We see Dr. Phil on our satelite television - I am pretty glad that this topic has come up in the States - He worries me..

And David:
I did see him a couple of times on Oprah (I know... don't ask...)
Oprah?
;)
 

David Baxter

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I said "don't ask"... it wasn't my idea... I wasn't in control of the remote... a woman was... ;o)
 

HA

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It's most unfortunate that an opportunity for mass public education about mental illness and mental health has been lost.

I have only seen the Dr Phil show a couple of times and was quite excited by the prospect of mental health and therapy being a public interest. This seemed to be the ideal way to counteract the programming that is geared towards the entertainment and enjoyment of watching people deal with supposedly "real life" as in reality TV or the past talk shows that exploit and encourage inhumane behaviour such as Springer.

Really, Springer and similar shows were little removed from the days of throwing people to the lions in Rome.

While the Dr. Phil show may not be the ideal it is at least one step closer to better television.
 

Pilonea

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I think Doktor Phil is a fraud and a charlatan who couldn't have a real career, so he must appear "made for TV." He only "made it" because he was lucky enough to happen to appear on Oprah as her "expert" a few times. Any run of the mill shrink could have done it. The man is not some leader of his field, academic journal published, chairman of the psychology department type of scholar. No, those people have real careers and better things to do (though they probably wish they had his millions).

That being said, I have heard him mention on his show that all potential guests are screened psychologically, and that if he feels the applicant's issues are a result of a biological and diagnosable brain disorder, then he will screen them and not allow them on his show. He claims he wants it to be more of a family counseling show than a show concerned with the counseling the mentally ill.

However, his "serial killer" comments and other off hand remarks, clearly intended to entertain the lay audience, do warrant severe reprocussions.
 

^^Phoenix^^

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The problem is, (and I know this is an ooold strain in the forum, but I read it again... can't let sleeping dogs lie!!!) anyway, as i was saying.... The problem is that while he may know his stuff, (and lets face it, sometimes he does, *sometimes*), most of the time he seems to be more concerned with crowd pleasing than anything else. Just like any other tv personality. Perhaps if people were warned in the credits... or... You know how on CSI or something they have that parental rating?? perhaps after each add break they should have something like that to warn people to research anything he says that they feel affects them.
 

Banned

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I used to watch Dr. Phil all the time. I'll even admit that I flew down to see him :) But I've found in the last year or so, his show has gone downhill and I have no inclination to watch it anymore.

When he first came on, I got alot out of his show; even if it was just one line he said from a show that left me with something to think about. Now, it's always the same old story - dieting, divorce, and dating. There are real issues out there that he could educate the public about and remove the stigma from, like eating disorders, self-injury, etc.

I don't doubt that he was and still is a competent therapist. However, I think the fame and hype surrounding his show has shifted his priorities.
 

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