Dr. Phillip C. McGraw, known to his fans as “Dr. Phil,” is currently one of America’s top-selling authors, as well as a television star. He got his TV start by dispensing folksy advice during weekly appearances on Oprah Winfrey’s daytime talk show, and he has starred on his own syndicated program since the fall of 2002. His frequent prodding of his audience to “get real” has clearly struck a chord; four of his books have occupied the number one spot on the New York Times best seller list, covering the usual range of self-help topics, including relationship improvement, strategies for improving one’s own life, and weight loss. His books have little to say that is new, but his straightforward “tough love” style of presenting advice has won him many readers.
Prior to his ascent to stardom, Dr. Phil seems to have been involved in a variety of enterprises, including forensic psychology—he is president and co-founder of Courtroom Sciences, Inc., self-described as “the world’s leading litigation consulting firm.” It was in his capacity as a jury consultant in Winfrey’s battle with the Texas beef industry (due to her on-camera references to mad cow disease) that he ﬁrst became associated with her show. The company represents itself as involved in the legal affairs of most of the Fortune 500 companies, and Dr. Phil runs continuing-education seminars for lawyers on the subject of forecasting and inﬂuencing civil verdicts. His Web site represents him as having published “numerous scholarly articles”; however, a quick search through Psychological Abstracts, which indexes all scholarly psychological journals, turns up just one citation, a 1981 article on the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis by biofeedback and relaxation training.
Some of his fans in the media have turned on him regarding the new ventures that have followed in the wake of his latest best seller. With books like Relationship Rescue, he was following in the well-trodden footsteps of many other mass-media psychologists, but with The Ultimate Weight Solution: The Seven Keys to Weight Loss Freedom, he has moved beyond traditional psychological territory. Weight gain and loss can certainly have a psychological component, but it is his marketing deal with CSA Nutraceuticals that has drawn criticism and questions about his ethics. Through this deal, his name and likeness grace the packaging of nutritional supplements, including vitamin packets and meal replacement drinks and bars sold under the brand name Shape Up. The book and the introduction of the products tied in directly with the contents of his television show, marking out previously unexplored territory in the gray area connecting entertainment, marketing, and health. Many TV hosts have sold books and videos, but Dr. Phil is endorsing products that could affect his audience’s health, and the constant attachment of “Dr.” to his name may cause people to trust his judgment on this matter more than they should. It may not be clear to all his viewers that he is trained as a psychologist, not a medical doctor.
- McGraw, P. C. The Ultimate Weight Solution: The Seven Keys to Weight Loss Freedom. New York: The Free Press, 2003.