OPINION: Dr. Phil is an entertainment show, not a counselling show

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I hardly ever watch television, but a while ago I turned on the TV just to see what was on and found myself watching an episode of Dr. Phil. I found that while the show advertises itself as being a counselling session that gets broadcasted, the show is primarily for entertainment.

(Oprah.com)

The episode I watched perfectly encapsulates this. The episode, or at least the part I could stand to watch, was about someone who had won one of the Miss America beauty pageants in her state but then had her status revoked after the event organizers discovered she had made some racist tweets. So I assumed the episode of Dr. Phil would be redemption for her, where they explain why what she said was wrong and then she apologizes at the end.

Wrong. Instead, the whole purpose of the episode was to make people who understood why the tweets were racist feel smart and get angry at the girl for being racist. I came to this conclusion because instead of explaining to the girl why what she said was racist (since her whole point was that she didn’t think it was racist), they spent the whole 15-ish minutes explaining to her that she shouldn’t argue with people online and that racism hurts people’s feelings.

For example, she called the hijab “an oppressive symbol.” This comes across as racist because obviously many, many muslin women wear the hijab because they want to. However, she was specifically talking about countries where wearing a hijab is forced upon women but did not include those words in her tweet, making it sound terrible. Or, at least, that’s how she responded when they talked about it on stage.

But instead of explaining to her that her wording made it sound like she was saying all muslin women are oppressed, the guest explained that many women chose to wear the hijab, which is something the pageant winner had already agreed with. Also, in a display of hypocrisy, Dr. Phil explained that twitter was not a good place to have an argument because there was not enough time and space to properly explain yourself. Sort of like trying to solve a complex problem like racism on a TV show in 15 minutes, which is about how much time this lady was given.

By the end of her time on the show, nothing had changed and she still didn’t understand why what she said was racist. As a fun little addition, in one of the pre-recorded intro sections, she said, “coming out as conservative is harder than coming out as gay.” This comment, despite it having been pre-recorded, was never addressed or disputed. The producers of the show chose to include that statement but then not rebut it. The focus of the show wasn’t actually to solve the problem, but rather to make the audience feel good because they could tell what she was saying was wrong.

Some episodes seem meaningful, but filled with advertising

To be fair to the show, I did watch another episode about a family that wanted to help their mom with her opioid addiction. This actually ended with the mother realizing that she did have a severe addiction and was given some help. What was jarring to me, however, is how many different times the counselling part of the show paused so Dr. Phil could talk about his show and his podcast. I counted five different “ads” for the Dr. Phil show on the show itself, which does not include the actual ad breaks. Additionally, I suspect that the “experts” they call on the show might be paying the show to be on it. The amount of publicity the expert guests get from being on the show leads me to believe that they’re probably paying to be on there, since I’ve certainly never heard of any of these expert guests before and they don’t appear to be the top of their field.

Mental health issues should not be entertainment

At the end of the day, I have nothing against Dr. Phil, only his show. This show tries to make counselling, a very serious topic, entertaining. The goal is to make the audience feel some sort of emotional reaction to the person on it, not to actually solve their problems. I feel like a lot of people don’t realize this; I certainly didn’t until I actually watched a few episodes. That is a detriment to people who might actually need to seek help from a professional because they might feel dumb because most of the people the producers bring on Dr. Phil look dumb. Or, they think that the way Dr. Phil addresses cases is what real counselling is like, which it really isn’t. I would hope that a TV show wouldn’t have that large of an effect on people, but I know that they can. Either way, I’m not sure I like the idea of counselling mental health issues being a public event that people watch to be entertained.