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Dr. Phil exploiting Shelley Duvall

So, before we begin here is a hopelessly low quality copy of the episode. As it is copyrighted, I will have to remove it if asked (and I will probably remove it anyway quite soon), however I am aware that this show is no longer being promoted or marketed, and there is no way to obtain a “legitimate viewing” at this time, and that is my fair-use rational for supplying it:


Video © Peteski Productions, 2016. Original US air-date: 18 Nov 2016.

What’s the problem?

Well, without reading other people’s comments on this, I see a number of huge ethical problems with this episode. Firstly – and this is not the only time this has happened on the Dr. Phil show – it seems very obvious that Ms Duvall has not given informed consent to be filmed, broadcast, and ogled at. Secondly, Phillip C. McGraw introduced her in a completely offensive and sexist way. His introduction was this:

“The former starlet famous for her quirky and waif-like appearance is unrecognizable.” -Phillip C McGraw, 2016.

That sounds an awful lot like body-shaming someone for their aging process to me. Yet later on in the episode he tells her she’s still beautiful. Make your goddamned mind up!

Thirdly, Phillip C McGraw is not a psychologist, and his show is the worst level of trash on TV that there is. Now you might say “well everyone knows he isn’t a psychologist” – um, no they don’t. I have to tell fans this, and half the time they don’t believe me. It was only about a year ago that I told this to someone who simply didn’t believe me. She would have done better to go on the Jerry Springer Show than to appear on this one, at least Springer doesn’t bullshit his guests.

Fourthly, Phillip C McGraw offers her “professional assistance as a gift”. Hmm, really? What he doesn’t tell you is that he has specifically decided what professional assistance she’s going to need – despite the fact that he is unqualified to do so. For people who have mental or behavioural disorders there are a number of different ways to approach treatment. McGraw’s preferred method is to send her off to some unfamiliar place for treatment. Whereas she could have received treatment in her home, or even by telephone. There was no evidence that anyone professional evaluated how best to approach treatment from the best interests of Ms Duvall.

But McGraw does treat Ms Duvall with respect, right?

I feel genuinely annoyed at the fact that McGraw is so good at pulling the wool over his viewer’s eyes. Let’s be honest here, the kind of people that are interested in this show are generally pretty naive about current psychological thought. That’s not to be disparaging, it’s just that the show would lose its interest if a person has a strong knowledge of current psychological theories. The show is after all based on the audience being shocked by the guests.

Right, so I actually haven’t finished listing the problems with just this one episode yet, but I wanted to give you the opportunity to pause for a moment and think about whether you think McGraw is genuinely respectful to his guests? Well I think he’s not an the reason is…

Fifthly, McGraw’s show thrives on provoking and perpetuating the social stigmas attached to mental and behavioural disorders.

“The single most important barrier to overcome in the community is the stigma and associated discrimination towards persons suffering from mental and behavioural disorders.” –World Health Organization, 2001.

Now I can’t possibly go over social stigma in just this one post – if you want to know more you’re going to have to do some reading, or watch some videos, starting with my own here:


Baxter, D. 2016. Video released under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Licence (Aus). Originally published at: https://youtu.be/HMdl-VDRg9I

For many people stigma is worse than the disease itself. To hear people say that for yourself see this video featuring HIV+ people.

Generally speaking, from what I’ve seen of the show in the past, McGraw is very often interested in blaming people who likely have mental or behavioural disorders for their anti-social behaviours. This of course is called victim-blaming. Now he does sprinkle in a bit of “it’s not your fault” here and there, but I think one of the things that made this episode in particular so heinous is the fact that Ms Duvall clearly does not understand what’s going on around her, and McGraw & producers still think it’s appropriate to publish and profit from her “interview” anyway.

And by the way he does use victim-blaming language, even in this episode. For example, towards the end of the episode you hear him say that Ms Duvall “refused medication”. The way that he phrased it implied that she should have accepted medication it’s for her own good; however the episode itself made it clear Ms Duvall is fearful of doctors. So really this response is exactly what you would have expected from someone in her circumstance. We don’t even know what her diagnosis is and whether it can be managed with medication or not, so that statement was quite inappropriate and disrespectful to say the least.

Sixthly, I would have to assume that Ms Duvall was lured onto the show under false pretences. She doesn’t appear to understand that she’s being filmed, as previously mentioned.

Do these opinions matter?

Well it’s not just that there are ethical problems with the show, but the fact that it also a clear breach of professional standards by anyone’s measure. For reasons I’ve already listed. Now what’s interesting is that even the producers of the show have realised they fucked up big time by producing and then publishing this episode – and if you want proof of that go here. You will find that all the pages on the DrPhil website with mention of the episode have been removed. As of writing this though you can see what was there by viewing the Google-cached versions. Note that despite the fact that this action proves they’ve acknowledged their fuck-up that there’s no official explanation given.

Ms Duvall deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. I fear that what McGraw has done can only cause her undue damage and harm. Ms Duvall doesn’t deserve to be stigmatised in this way, and the greatest tragedy of all is that the show didn’t even try to balance the negativity by showing her at her best. She might have plenty of other great hobbies and interests that fill her time in a valuable and fulfilling way, but the show paid no attention to that area of her life at all.

 

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