Thursday, January 10, 2008

Dr. Phil is no doctor and other misconceptions

While I have no personal interest in the personal lives of the celebrities (other than one or two I may potentially date one day), it's hard to avoid the Britney Spears saga that permeates pop culture nowadays. I'll only comment on one segment of it, the fact that Mr. Spears called "Dr. Phil" to come and talk to his daughter and try and talk some sense into her. The news reports are conflicting as to exactly the order of events, but it is undisputed that he was there for some time. Cf. Dr. Phil: Britney Spears is 'in dire need' of help with Britney Spears Rejects Visit from Dr. Phil.

I only bring all of this up because Dr. Phil isn't a medical doctor (or a D.O. or a dentist or any other legitimate medical professional). He has a Ph.D., so he's entitled to the title, but isn't his act a little misleading to the general public? I know if someone hung a shingle and called themselves a "J.D.," you can rest assured that someone from that state's bar would be raising an eyebrow if that person all of a sudden started representing clients.

According to his Wikipedia page, Phil McGraw got his psychology degree from Midwestern State University in Texas and got his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from University of North Texas. What I learned (at least according to Wikipedia) is that even his own profession has sanctioned him: "The Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists imposed disciplinary sanctions on McGraw on January 27, 1989 for an inappropriate "dual relationship" reported in 1988 by a therapy client/employee from 1984." And, the real kicker: "As of 2008, McGraw has not completed the conditions imposed by the Board of Examiners of Psychologists, and he is not licensed to practice psychology." So, at least the profession considers this guy as a sort of rogue psychologist. Like Mumford.

My point to this isn't to knock Dr. Phil; obviously he provides a service to many people's daily afternoon routines. My problem is with the media's coverage of this and how many people will be mistaken in thinking that Dr. Phil is some sort of miracle worker doctor that can help Spears (or anyone for that matter) out. At least he didn't try and prescribe her medicine and in the end, simply advised the family to that she needs to seek professional help. Well Dr. Phil, it doesn't take a Ph.D. (or a J.D.) (or any other degree) to figure that one out. But hey, it's all about ratings anyway in the television world, right? And any press is better than no press.

At least those in the medical profession have criticized this blatant publicity stunt. See Oh Dr. Phil, Leave Britney Alone and Get Real. Leave that type of work to the real celebrity doctors, like Dr. Drew. At least Dr. Drew has his M.D.


4L said...

Now, I'm certainly not intending to denigrate the medical or ph.d profession by trying to distinguish doctors of philosophy with medical doctors (or doctors of osteopathy, dentists, or other medical professionals who are referred to as doctors, the exhaustive list I do not know). Certainly they have earned it (and I can speak from my friends who have those various degrees).

My point is that Dr. Phil, to me anyway, appears to be holding himself out as a medical doctor, intentionally or unintentionally, and that seems wrong to me. Just my opinion.

mia said...

If Dr. Phil has a Ph.D. in psychology, he has a right to call himself a doctor. The majority of doctors in the counseling field are in fact doctors of philosophy or Psy. Ds. The majority of professors in universities are doctors of philosophy. So, if he has a Ph.D. his title is appropriate. However, his lack of a valid license to practice as a professional counselor would be the concern.

4L said...

I agree, he is perfectly within his right to call himself a doctor. Two of my friends finished their ph.ds this year and another is finishing hers by April. My beef was with how he has snowballed the general public into thinking he's a medical doctor. But I guess that's not a big deal either. To me (and I agree with your point), the apparent lack of a license to act as a professional counselor in light of his television show should raise a bigger eyebrow within that profession.

From a Friends episode:
Ross: And I'm Doctor Ross Geller.
Rachel: Ross, please, this is a hospital, ok? That actually means something here.

From Kpax:
Prot: Doctor. Doctor. Doctor. Doctor. How many doctors are there on this planet?

All kidding aside, I have the utmost respect for those who get a ph.d. It most certainly takes a heck of a lot more effort to get a ph.d. than a j.d. That's probably one reason why the only lawyers who call themselves "doctor" are scam artists pretending to barristers from Africa.

Anonymous said...

From what I understand, Dr. Phil allowed his license to lapse, because he has essentially retired from the profession. He doesn't practice privately any longer, and doesn't wish to, so there was no need for the license. I don't believe he has ever implied that he is a medical doctor - but the media can certainly very easily twist viewers into believing that he has.

If you watch the show, you will see that he acts as host for entertainment purposes only, drawing upon his past experience, and when it comes time to provide help or counseling to his guests, he puts them in touch with reputable, licensed doctors or psychologists or psychiatrists. His Dr. Phil House segments, being the only exception, and those people sign papers to agree to be showcased and given advice by Dr. Phil, despite his lack of license - again, for entertainment purposes.

As for Ms. Spears, it's public knowledge that Dr. Phil and Spears are well acquainted - and when a friend asks for help, you give it. As well known public figures... it's a safe bet to say that it would have been next to impossible to keep that from the media, and whatever spin they wish to put on it.

If there are a couple of black marks on his record, due to accusations of past clients or what have you - many doctors have those, and if and until a ruling is made stating that Dr. Phil is indeed guilty of some sort of misconduct, then I would say that his integrity is in tact.

According to Yahoo! Answers:

"In concert with his books and television work, Dr. Phil provides strategic guidance for millions of Americans through his monthly column in O, The Oprah Magazine. He is also one of the world's most sought-after public speakers. As a professional psychologist, he has published numerous scholarly articles and has practiced in the many fields of clinical psychology and behavioral medicine. Dr. Phil has a B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. in clinical psychology from North Texas State University with a dual area of emphasis in clinical and behavioral medicine. He is a licensed clinical psychologist in the great state of Texas.

Dr. Phil has also launched The Dr. Phil Foundation, a nonprofit charitable organization that is committed to helping children and families at risk. It is also devoted to rewarding remarkable children who are working hard to overcome tremendous obstacles and give back to their family and community. The foundation is another tool in Dr. Phil's arsenal to fight what he calls the "silent epidemics" in America, those problems that cripple our society in subtle but undeniable ways."

If you visit the University of North Texas website, you will find information on Dr. Phil, as well as a link to his own website. If they had any problems with him as an alumnus, I don't think they would be promoting him, do you?

Lastly, before anyone assumes that I chose to post anonymously because of cowardice, let me just clear that up, my Google account name includes my full legal name, and that's the only reason why I did that.


Anonymous said...

Word to the wise, any lawyer who wishes to be taken seriously should not credit "Wikipedia" as a source of any information, no matter how relevant.

Anonymous said...

If you would like to investigate whether he let it lapse or if it was revoked you could request an NPI. National providers Registry and an NPDB, national providers data bank report. They will let you know if this person was revoked or allowed it to lapse due to not practicing or if they were sanctioned. Also the NBCC, national board of certified counselors and therapists is a site that will give similar inforation. They won't tell you if the person was sanctioned. These sites include Ph.D's, Psy.D and M.A. or M.S. Most states have a board that governs these practitioners and will provide the information free of charge. This is because the public has the right to make an informed choice about their practitioner regardless of their degree. If I was to do such a thing I would be on the 10pm news!! He could be functioning as a self help GURU and insist on using his title. However, false advertisement and or providing the general public with a false sense of the services or level of service (psychiatric or therapeutic) being provided is a violation of both the APA and NBCC ethical guidelines. Ethics are codes which carry sanctions but if you are not license to practice then there is not much to sanction. Until he is sued for malpractice not much can be done. Once he is charged with a misconduct that holds enough weight in a state or federal court ...then he can be charged with a crime.
Therefore, money can buy you anything. Including the right to break Ethical laws everyday infront of millions. lol

Anonymous said...

I care not for titles here, but due to the fact that someone stated that you should not call yourself Doctor unless you attended some medical school (M.D., O.D., etc.) well, that is just plan silly! If you look up the actual requirements for Medical School you would be shocked! If a person whom graduates from a Medical School wants to get a PhD they need to attend school for another 4 years pass there MD training! So to all my friends out there, that would place Dr. Phil above a MD!!!!!! :)

ECL said...

I'm not going to get into a degree ranking war, but between an M.D. and a Ph.D., I think the 5/8/10 comment has it completely backwards. Certainly a Ph.D. has value, but it's hardly comparable to the effort it takes to become a licensed doctor.

Anonymous said...

Ok so speaking as someone with an undergraduate degree in psychology and beginning graduate school in clinical psychology I feel I have to make a very important distinction between the field of psychology and psychiatry. Psychiatry is a medical profession which requires an MD and then 5 years of residency - during which most of their clinical training will come from clinical psychologists. Most psychiatrists don't provide therapy - as an MD they don't have time to sit around and talk to all their patients. What they do is prescribe drugs, they understand the physiology of the mental disorder that's what they've had the majority of their education in. Clinical psychologists however have studied psychology extensively for at least 9 years in order to get their PhD. They are most often the ones who provide therapy, that's their job, that's what they're trained for. Dr. Phil has a right to call himself a Dr. and most certainly has a right to practice therapy, I would be concerned if he was an MD practicing therapy (although that is allowed) because they do not have the formal education to do so.

I'm not commenting on his licensing or his apparent effort to be known as an MD because I don't really know anything about that.

I agree with 5/8/10 anonymous you do need to complete 4 more years of school after an MD to get a PhD. An MD is probably the most intensive program to complete but they do have fewer years of school and fewer degrees than a PhD. Also, a PhD is considered an expert because they are expected to know everything about their field of study and to contribute new ideas in order to get their degree an MD does not. I wouldn't trust anything that had to do with my physiology to anyone but an MD and I wouldn't trust anything that had to do with my mind to anyone but a PhD in C. Psy.

Anonymous said...

Psy.D. = Doctor of Psychology

Ph.D.= Doctor of Philosophy

M.D.= Doctor of Medicine

They are all Doctors, just of different concentrations.

terri said...

Dr. Phil is not required to be an M.D. in order to practice psychology, anymore than an M.D. would be required to have degrees in physcology. He would need to be an M.D. if he wanted to be a Psychiatrist.

ECL said...

Response to the Oct. 2 comment: Of course these are all doctors. Only one actually is qualified to prescribe medicine. The July 1 comment is largely representative of my own views, although I disagree with the comment that anyone with a Ph.D. is necessarily an expert. I've met plenty of people of have ph.d's and they are not experts. On the flip side, I have also met many who are. Like anything else, it comes down to the individual.

Anonymous said...

Actually, a Ph.D. is a doctor. Medical doctors aren't really entitled to the term. Look them up in the phone book and you find them under the title "Physician." They aren't really doctors at all. The term "doctor" in Greek translates to "learned teacher." Medical doctors usually don't teach - they practice - therefore, the term is not applicable. However, since tradition dictates that we use the term, we do.

Anonymous said...

While an MD requires "only" 4 years of post-graduate education, for all practical reasons it is completely useless without a subsequent 3-6 year residency and maybe even an additional 3-4 years of fellowship. The MD degree is only a pre-requisite to becoming a "real" medical doctor, something clearly not understood by the public at large. One cannot compare medical doctors to PhD's because they have completely different tracks, but we need to understand that they both provide equally essential services within their respective scopes of practice.
As a medical doctor, I should know...