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Dr. Phil Crossed the Line on His Show

04/04/2013 12:43 EDT | Updated 06/04/2013 05:12 EDT
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LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 07: Dr. Phil McGraw speaks during the taping of his television show, announcing 'Little Kids Rock Across America' at Paramount Pictures Studios on December 7, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

Everybody who regularly converses with me will tell you that I love using certain quotes and metaphors in conversation. If anything, I tend to be accused of recycling quotes and metaphors a little too often. One of my favourites is "Be careful what you wish for" and let me tell you, I saw that quote come to life yesterday.

Earlier this year I wrote a blog titled "How we portray mental health on TV matters" where I expressed that Hollywood has a responsibility to accurately portray mental illness and to start a conversation. I noted that some fictional television shows were doing just that and a mighty good job, in fact. While I wished more television shows would talk about mental illness, one of them didn't do such a good job of it recently.

I couldn't help but feel outraged while watching an episode of Dr. Phil yesterday. A guest on the show named Tonya said she talked to celebrities in her head such as Barack Obama, Clint Eastwood, the Kardashians, and even Dr. Phil himself. Tonya's family believes she has a form of mental illness while Tonya disagrees.

I'm not a doctor and when it comes to mental illness, I am non-judgmental. But I will judge what unfolded on the show. I'm not going to add my two cents as to whether or not I think Tonya has mental illness.

In order to appear on the show Tonya had to sign a consent form agreeing to have her story told to millions of viewers. I don't know if Tonya received any incentives to appear on the show such as free transportation and accommodations in Los Angeles that may have possibly motivated her to appear. I also don't have any knowledge of off-camera discussions that Tonya had with the producers or Dr. Phil. Tonya is a consenting adult and it's safe to assume she willfully appeared on the show.

I feel like Tonya was in a very raw state and maybe I take issue with watching her because it brings back memories of what things were like for me during the early stages of my mental illness. However, as much as I advocate for talking about mental illness publicly I also believe parts of one's treatment should be done in private. Speculating about somebody's diagnosis and trying to expose their symptoms is something I believe should be done privately, not in a television studio in front of millions of people.

I felt like Dr. Phil wasn't very compassionate or polite when interviewing Tonya. At one point during the interview he questioned her about her supposed relationship with Rob Kardashian and after Tonya offered up some details Dr. Phil replied, "I know the Kardashians very well. I just talked to them a few days ago they've never mentioned you." While Tonya likely didn't talk to the Kardashians, I believe Dr. Phil could have come across as more sympathetic. I feel like he came off as rude when a different approach would have likely been more beneficial to Tonya.

I will not disagree with the fact that 'doctor shows' make a great attempt at helping people and offering them resources that may be unavailable in their communities or that they're unable to afford. But at what point does it become exploiting to the guests needing help? I'll be honest, I do watch Dr. Phil on a regular basis and I even own a couple of his books. But I believe he and his producers missed the mark with this particular episode.

I want to reiterate that nobody should be ashamed of having a mental illness nor should they be ashamed of people witnessing their symptoms. At the same time we are all entitled to privacy but should also discuss at what cost that comes to all of us when it comes to getting treatment.

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