When Real-Life Medical Experts Fact-Checked Dr. Oz, They Exposed The Dark Truth About His Show

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Without doubt, Dr. Oz is among the most famous physicians in America. That’s all down to his wildly popular syndicated show, which sees viewers tune in every week to learn more about health and medical matters. But while Dr. Oz should know his stuff – he’s an experienced heart surgeon, after all – some of his peers have real doubts about his methods. And in the process, the experts have revealed an unsettling truth about the star and his recommendations.

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Still, none of this has stopped Dr. Oz from building up his brand. Aside from his television series, he also has his own magazine, a series of books and a very big following on social media. And the message he promotes is fairly simple: people should be able to make their own decisions about their wellbeing. The doctor is seemingly happy to make suggestions on how his audience can do that, too.

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Yet while Dr. Oz was apparently once very good at his job, there have been a lot of awkward questions about the physician in recent years. Is his medical advice really backed up scientifically? Does he actually believe in what he’s selling? And should his followers perhaps seek a second opinion?

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Dr. Oz, by all accounts, was interested in medicine from childhood. When the future TV star was still young, his father worked at the Wilmington Medical Center in Delaware as a thoracic surgeon. And when the pre-teen Oz observed his dad’s skill and saw the impact it made, he decided at seven years old that he wanted to follow in his parent’s footsteps.

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As soon as Oz was old enough, then, he set about achieving that goal, and in 1993 he completed his cardiothoracic surgery residency at New York’s Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center. After that, he worked as an attending surgeon at the prestigious facility. But along the way, the specialist also had a strong interest in less conventional practices such as hypnosis and acupuncture.

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Dr. Oz has since claimed that his interest in alternative treatments began after an encounter with a patient. Apparently, the woman’s family had chosen to have her die rather than disobey her religion by receiving a blood transfusion; despite this decision, though, she lived. And in 2008 Dr. Oz explained to Life Extension magazine how this experience had changed his view on medicine. He said, “I began to recognize that as dogmatic as I thought I could be with my knowledge base, there were certain elements of the healing process I could not capture.”

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During the same interview, Dr. Oz noted of his past patients, “They would abdicate all responsibility for their care once they walked into our hospital. So we tried to change that, to give them the confidence to play an active role in their own recovery process by letting them use their own healing traditions. And that’s how I actually learned about many of these alternative therapies.”

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Marrying Lisa Lemole in 1985 also helped Dr. Oz find out more about the world of alternative medicine. You see, while Lemole was the child of a cardiothoracic surgeon, her mother was also a big advocate of practices such as homeopathy. And after the physician himself began to study that field, he, too, became enthused about exploring different methods to treat people.

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Dr. Oz also sought inspiration from Turkey – the land of his parents. And during a 2010 interview on the American Public Media show Speaking of Faith, he explained the effect visiting the country had on him, saying, “I feel strongly that in the West, we have come to believe that medicine offers all the solutions, so we no longer play the proactive role we should be playing. Take Turkey as an example.”

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The physician went on, “You would never leave a patient in the hospital [in Turkey] unless you had a relative with them. In fact, the nurse gives you the pills to give the patient. You change the bedpan. You make them feel comfortable. You fluff up their pillow. In the United States, we have visiting hours. No one can see the patient. We block them out.”

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Then Dr. Oz seemingly summed up his medical ethos, adding, “It’s just that if we’re truly going to achieve maximum healing, maximum impact, we ought to take any tool that’s at our disposal. That includes nonscientific approaches – as long as we have evidence that they don’t hurt the patients. And that’s really what I’m pulling for.”

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In 1999 Dr. Oz even published a book about that outlook, entitled Healing from the Heart: A Leading Surgeon Combines Eastern and Western Traditions to Create the Medicine of the Future. And while this work first put the physician on the map, his journey towards becoming one of the most famous doctors in the U.S. had only just begun.

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Then, in 2003 Dr. Oz and his wife, Lisa, created a non-profit called HealthCorps with the aim of getting young people to lead better lifestyles. The philosophy of the organization, as stated on its official website, is “to strengthen communities with the most innovative approaches to health and wellness to help the next generation be more resilient – both mentally and physically.”

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Two years later, Dr. Oz also released medical book YOU: The Owner’s Manual – jointly penned with Michael F. Roizen. An appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show followed as a result, and this TV debut proved a fateful one. It turned out, you see, that the physician was highly engaging on camera.

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And Dr. Oz began earning more and more attention off the back of further television slots. In 2008 Time magazine went as far as to include him in the “Scientists and Thinkers” section of its yearly “Top 100” list. Chef Eric Ripert wrote of the medical professional, “He is a man of extraordinary compassion and strength, remarkably suited both to caring for his own patients and to carrying a message of health to a larger world.”

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Most importantly, though, the surgeon developed a good working relationship with Oprah. The media superstar even co-produced The Dr. Oz Show, which debuted in 2009 to very high ratings. Suddenly, the physician was a household name. And for a while, it seemed as though he really was “America’s doctor” – a nickname handed to the fledgling TV personality by Oprah herself.

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The success of Dr. Oz’s series – along with his other business endeavors – also made him incredibly rich. In 2012, for example, he apparently pulled in $4 million. And at the same time, the accolades kept pouring in, including spots on lists of the most influential people on the planet.

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During its run, The Dr. Oz Show has been able to welcome esteemed guests such as Michelle Obama, who talked on camera about childhood obesity. The regular people who appeared as patients seemed to get something out of it all, too – even if it was just an opportunity to discuss their issues.

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But from time to time, there was arguably an air of moral dubiousness to proceedings. For example, in 2012 Dr. Oz decided to air an episode of his show entitled From Gay to Straight? The Controversial Therapy, which covered the theory that you can somehow “convert” people’s sexuality. This was despite the fact that so-called “conversion therapy” has already been debunked; indeed, it’s actually illegal in many states today.

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Dr. Oz also provoked controversy by inviting Theresa Caputo – a self-styled psychic and the star of reality series Long Island Medium – onto his set. And while the physician was full of praise for Caputo on air, her apparent powers, it was later discovered, seemed to come by way of studying publicly available information about her clients.

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Then, in February 2013, The New Yorker magazine poured on the skepticism with a piece boasting the subtitle “Is the most trusted doctor in America doing more harm than good?” There, author Michael Specter wrote of Dr. Oz, “He seems to have moved more firmly into the realm of tenuous treatments for serious conditions.”

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Specter went on, “I asked Oz several times why he… allows psychics, homeopaths and purveyors of improbable diet plans and dietary supplements to appear on the show. He said that he takes his role as a medium between medicine and the people seriously, and he feels that such programs offer his audience a broader perspective on health.”

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Dr. Oz himself was quoted in the article, however, and his words appeared to be an attempt to justify his practices. “Ultimately, if we want to fix American medicine, we will need skeptical and smart patients to dominate,” he said. “They will need to ask the hard questions, because much of medicine is just plain old logic. So I am out there trying to persuade people to be those patients. And that often means telling them what the establishment doesn’t want them to hear: that their answers are not the only answers, and their medicine is not the only medicine.”

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Even so, a group of Canadian researchers decided to fact-check the claims that Dr. Oz made on air. Several doctors, pharmacists and other experts gathered together to view both the surgeon’s series and another medical show, The Doctors, and in 2014 they published their findings in The BMJ.

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The researchers wrote in the abstract of their paper, “Investigators randomly selected 40 episodes of each of The Dr. Oz Show and The Doctors from early 2013. [They] then identified and evaluated all recommendations made on each program. A group of experienced evidence reviewers independently searched for, and evaluated as a team, evidence to support 80 randomly selected recommendations from each show.”

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What the group found, however, was not positive. They claimed, “Recommendations made on medical talk shows often lack adequate information on specific benefits or the magnitude of the effects of these benefits. Approximately half of the recommendations have either no evidence or are contradicted by the best available evidence. Potential conflicts of interest are rarely addressed.”

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And the team noted in their conclusion, “If [medical] shows are perceived as providing medical information or advice, viewers need to realize that the recommendations may not be supported by higher evidence or presented with enough balanced information to adequately inform decision making. Decisions around healthcare issues are often challenging and require much more than non-specific recommendations based on little or no evidence from media health professionals.”

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But what about the particular claims Dr. Oz has made? Well, people have been going back to older episodes of his shows and analyzing them. And you perhaps won’t be surprised to hear that the medic doesn’t come off well. For example, in 2012 Dr. Oz promoted raspberry ketones as “the number one miracle in a bottle to burn your fat.” This assertion turned out to be dubious at best.

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The raspberry ketones segment sparked such an enormous debate, in fact, that Tim Sullivan, a spokesperson for the show, had to release a statement defending Dr. Oz’s comments. This message said, “An adjective like ‘miracle’ is used as an editorial device to describe anecdotal results, as exemplified by the guests on our show. Our audience are not scientists, and the show needs to be more lively than a dry scientific discussion.”

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At that time, only a small number of studies had been completed on the effects of raspberry ketones, with these investigations having been concentrated on rats rather than human beings. And Melinda Manore, a nutrition professor, explained to the Los Angeles Times that weight-loss experiments on rodents often don’t translate to people. She said, “I would not recommend this product until there is some evidence that it works.”

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Then there’s Dr. Oz’s pursuit of homeopathy. On one episode of his show, the surgeon even claimed that his own children use homeopathic remedies – heavily diluted substances that are sometimes touted as cures. Yet most scientists have said that there’s very little – if any – benefit to this system.

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In 2005 medical journal The Lancet published the results of a study that had seen scientists conduct multiple experiments comparing homeopathy with conventional medicine. And, unfortunately, the conclusion was that the only benefit of homeopathy came by way of the placebo effect.

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Dr. Oz was even once called before Congress to account for one of his claims. In June 2014 the physician had to defend his reasoning for offering weight-loss supplements as miracle cures without any scientific evidence of their effectiveness. And during the hearing, Senator Claire McCaskill told him, “I get that you do a lot of good on your show. But I don’t get why you need to say this stuff, because you know it’s not true.”

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Senator McCaskill, who was just one of Dr. Oz’s critics, also appeared on CBS This Morning to explain her issue with the TV personality. There, she told Nancy Cordes, “I’ve got no problem with celebrity endorsements of any product. But I do have a problem when a science-based doctor says something is a miracle when there’s no science to back it up.”

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Such was the concern among the medical community that in 2015 ten doctors took action. Specifically, they signed a letter asking Columbia University to remove Dr. Oz from his post there, with the missive beginning, “We are surprised and dismayed that Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons would permit Dr. Mehmet Oz to occupy a faculty appointment – let alone a senior administrative position in the Department of Surgery.”

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The letter went on to say that the TV doctor had “repeatedly shown disdain for science” and had “manifested an egregious lack of integrity by promoting quack treatments and cures in the interest of personal financial gain.” And while Columbia didn’t actually fire Dr. Oz as a result, he ended up defending himself publicly anyway.

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Speaking to NBC News, the surgeon asserted, for example, that he didn’t consider his program to be “a medical show” at all. He went on, “The purpose is not to throw at you the biggest articles published by doctors that week. Frankly, it’s not very much fun to listen to [those], either. It’s to have a conversation with people who may be feeling the way you feel right now and maybe got better.”

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Yet the TV personality told NBC News that in light of the comments made by Senator McCaskill, he would be making some changes to his show. Referring to the politician’s statement, he added, “It resonated very, very much, and I’ve thought a lot subsequently. And we’re specifically avoiding some phrases that we know are inflammatory – things like ‘miracle.’”

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But not everyone believed that the promised adjustments would materialize. In 2016 Scientific American magazine published a guest blog by Nathaniel P. Morris titled “Has Dr. Oz Changed His Ways?” And, apparently, the answer was “no.” Morris wrote, “Despite reprimands from Congress and the medical community, Dr. Oz doesn’t appear to be atoning for his mistakes. Instead, he continues to prioritize entertainment over explanation and emotion over substance.”

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And yet Dr. Oz seems to consider this argument a matter of belief. In a 2013 interview with The New Yorker, then, he made a statement that the writer later described as “chilling.” The physician said, “I have my religion, and you have yours. It becomes difficult for us to agree on what we think works, since so much of it is in the eye of the beholder. Data is rarely clean. You find the arguments that support your data, and it’s my fact versus your fact.”

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But what of America’s other hugely famous medical professional, Dr. Phil? Well, audiences flock to his popular daytime show, too. And when the lucky people in question finally get to the Los Angeles studio in which the series is filmed, they have to put their names down on paper for a very good reason.

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Hosted by former forensic and clinical psychologist Phil McGraw, Dr. Phil is one of the jewels in the daytime TV crown. Unsurprisingly, the demand to sit in the audience of the syndicated talk show is always high. However, those lucky enough to get their hands on tickets must adhere to a number of strict rules, including signing a very important document.

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The brainchild of McGraw and talkshow legend Oprah Winfrey, Dr. Phil first aired in September 2002. Problem children, failing marriages, financial difficulties and family squabbles are just a few of the topics that the former psychologist has regularly offered his advice on over the years. And the daytime staple has been a hit with both audiences and critics alike.

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Indeed, since 2004 Dr. Phil has picked up a Daytime Emmy nomination every year it’s been on air. It also routinely beats the likes of Live with Kelly and Ryan, Wendy Williams and The Ellen DeGeneres Show in the ratings. In fact, in the summer of 2019, it celebrated its 150th consecutive week as the most-watched syndicated talk show on daytime TV.

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Dr. Phil is taped at Hollywood’s Paramount Pictures lot in front of a live audience. Since the show is renewed until at least May 2023, there are still plenty of chances to get a coveted seat in the crowd. However, fans who haven’t yet had the pleasure of seeing the man up close and personal should know that they essentially have to jump through hoops before doing so.

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Yes, like many daytime talk shows, Dr. Phil producers expect the audience to comply with a seemingly never-ending list of rules before taking to their seats. And some fans may well be a little too sleepy to take them all in, as audience members have to check in to the Paramount Studios lot by 7:30 a.m. at the very latest.

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If you can tear yourself away from your bed even earlier then chances are you’ll get a better view. The audience are seated according to what position they are in the queue to enter the studio. So if you show up late, then expect to be positioned in the very back row.

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No matter what time you get to the studio, you should expect to spend a lot of time queueing before you’re allowed in. The official Dr. Phil website states, “Upon arrival, you will be admitted to a waiting area outside the studio until the studio is clear for admittance.” Vending machines and benches are provided for patient fans but you may want to bring a book to pass the time.

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Just make sure that it’s not one of the many books written by Dr. Phil. Audience members are prohibited from bringing any reading material bearing the star’s name into the studio. This rule appears to have been brought in to prevent his army of fans clamoring for the host’s signature.

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As well as working out how to keep yourself occupied before the show starts, fans must also think carefully about their sartorial choices. Audience members are advised to be ‘camera ready’ when they rock up to the Paramount Studios lot. “Dark, solid color business attire” is favored, while beige and white clothing, hats, jeans and busy patterns are all on the no-no list.

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According to some fans, your fashion sense can also determine your view of Dr. Phil. A past audience member posted on TripAdvisor, “I do think that what you wear does influence the seat you get, so dress in solid bold colors, no patterns. I wore black and hot pink and was seated towards the front for one taping and near Robin [Dr. Phil’s wife] for the second taping.”

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Audiences should also be aware that they may have to brave Arctic-like conditions in the studio. Yes, even in the height of summer fans are advised to wear many layers due to the powerful air conditioning that’s used during recording. One TripAdvisor reviewer states, “I shivered for six hours with a sweater on over a top. It was not enough.”

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If you need to get out of all those layers to use the toilet, then make sure you do so before you take to your seat. Restroom breaks are strictly forbidden on the set of Dr. Phil unless they are of an emergency nature. So be careful how much you use the vending machines provided.

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If the thought of busting a move in public brings you out in a cold sweat, then watching Dr. Phil live may not be for you. Yes, it turns out that The Ellen DeGeneres Show isn’t the only daytime hit where dancing in the audience can sometimes be mandatory. The man himself will often help to get the crowd in the mood before taping begins by encouraging them to boogie.

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But dancing isn’t the only method of getting the crowd warmed up. In a post for the blog host Medium, fan A.J. Deveaux wrote, “After everyone was strategically seated in frame, one of Dr. Phil’s producers took his spot center stage and began acting as a sort of hype man to the audience. His enthusiasm was very contagious — he had a very good stage presence and was extremely witty and quick on his feet.”

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And this hype man usually comes bearing gifts. Indeed, those who enter into the spirit of the show the most enthusiastically can be showered with official Dr. Phil merchandise including signed books, mugs and lip gloss designed by the host’s wife, Robin. Unfortunately, producers aren’t so generous when it comes to handing out food. One particular audience member revealed on TripAdvisor that their free lunch amounts to little more than some water and crackers.

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And don’t expect to get a better meal if you are classed as a VIP. You also won’t receive preferential treatment when it comes to waiting lines and seating, either. According to one fan on TripAdvisor, the only perk of having such a status is getting to arrive at the studio half an hour later than everyone else.

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How you react to another of the show’s many rules will depend on your attention span or your level of Dr. Phil fandom. Audiences are typically expected to watch, not just one episode being taped, but several in succession. This allows the former psychologist to film enough shows for a whole week without having to turn up to work every single day.

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You may end up staying on set even longer if the host needs to do some re-recording or film some extra footage. Yes, producers certainly like to get the most out of the show’s audience members. One fan claims that they spent no less than six hours watching Dr. Phil do his thing.

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Thankfully, audience members aren’t imprisoned on set and are allowed to go home in-between the tapings of multiple episodes if they wish. One TripAdvisor reviewer wrote, “The subject matter was so intense that it ran for three shows. However, they gave you every opportunity to leave if you had to.”

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Security is also a big issue when it comes to entering the Dr. Phil studio. Audience members are warned on the show’s official website that they will have to walk through a metal detector and have any bags searched before being allowed on to the premises. Unsurprisingly, fans aren’t allowed to bring their weapon of choice with them either.

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Unfortunately, Dr. Phil fans with a physical disability will find it much harder to gain access to the set. As stated on the show’s own website, the studio’s main entrance doesn’t accommodate audience members with mobility issues. Instead, they are advised to use a separate waiting facility, which many believe is unacceptable in this day and age.

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And those coping with a disability aren’t treated much better once they get inside. In a piece for Ragged Edge magazine, audience member Angela Gaggero wrote, “The seating in the studio is a half-circle of stadium seats; we are taken to the absolute worst seats in the place. We are all the way on the right, behind a big huge camera. Dr. Phil will be facing away from us the entire show; all we will see is his back!”

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Any Dr. Phil fans under the age of 18 might also face problems finding their way into the audience. Those who aren’t old enough to vote must get consent from a parent before they’re allowed on to the studio. And if you’re under 16 then you won’t be allowed to step foot inside the studio at all.

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Even if you are over the age of 18, you still have to sign several pieces of paperwork before you’re allowed a seat. There’s the document relating to I.D. measures just in case you’re lucky enough to receive a gift during the show’s taping. And then there’s the audience waiver form which protects the show from any legal threats.

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In his article for Medium, Deveaux revealed, “The audience waiver primarily explained our responsibilities as audience members and the conduct expected in and outside the studio.” He then added that he didn’t want to expand much further due to legal reasons. However, Deveaux did add that “one of the main takeaways explained how Dr. Phil was not a licensed therapist by the state of California.”

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This isn’t the first time that such a waiver has been discussed in the media. In 2004, mental health activist David Sutz told CBS how he attended a taping hoping to persuade Dr. Phil to assist in a public information campaign. Instead, perturbed by the documentation he had to sign at the studio entrance, Sutz ended up going home without even clapping eyes on the host.

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The waiver in question required a signature confirming that the audience member wasn’t suffering from any mental illness. It also explicitly stated that any advice that Dr. Phil gave should not be interpreted as any kind of therapy. Sutz was also told that he would not be allowed to talk to Dr. Phil. These stipulations left Sutz without any choice but to walk away from the studio.

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Sutz told CBS that Dr. Phil’s advice “is not real medical, psychological advice at all.” He continued, “It is pure entertainment and he should stop insinuating that it is anything but that, especially not real counseling. Too many people in this country think Dr. Phil’s words are the gospel for him to be mistreating the mentally ill, either directly or indirectly.”

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It’s a viewpoint backed up by Robert Simmermon, an Atlanta-based psychologist, who told CBS, “It is important to distinguish between entertainment and actual treatment. It’s not done very well. It’s likely that some of the millions of people who tune into Dr. Phil ignore disclaimers and view it as therapy. I think it does need to be studied.”

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Xavier Amador, a National Alliance for the Mentally Ill board member, admitted to CBS that Dr. Phil can sometimes be beneficial. He said the show “certainly smooths the way for people to feel they can speak with a psychologist.” However, Amador also acknowledged, “the danger lies in the people who do need professional help and confuse what he’s saying with that help.”

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Indeed, Phil McGraw hasn’t been able to officially practice psychology in any state since 2006. The star surrendered his Texas license voluntarily in 2006 following a series of issues that put his professional status in jeopardy. For example, in 1989 he faced an ethics charge having reportedly engaged in inappropriate activity with a patient.

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As well as potentially harming the public with his TV work, Dr. Phil has also been accused of exploiting several celebrities. In 2016 The Shining actress Shelley Duvall appeared on his show in a seemingly distressed state. Many viewers felt that the host had overstepped the mark by using Duvall’s mental state as a form of entertainment.

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McGraw was also widely criticized for his conduct towards Britney Spears during her publicized mental health breakdown in the late ‘00s. The psychologist had been asked to visit the troubled pop superstar by her mother Lynne after an incident that saw Spears committed to the Cedars-Sinai Medical center. But McGraw soon proved that patient confidentiality wasn’t his strong point.

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Indeed, McGraw wasted little time in sending out a press release about his visit to Spears. It read, “My meeting with Britney and some of her family members this morning in her room at Cedars leaves me convinced more than ever that she is in dire need of both medical and psychological intervention… I am very concerned for her.”

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Understandably, Spears’ family was horrified at how McGraw had made such a private matter so public. Their spokesman Lou Taylor said, “What’s wrong with Dr. Phil’s statement is that he made a statement. The family basically extended an invitation of trust as a resource to support them, not to make a public statement. Any public statements he made, because he was brought in under this cloak of trust, are just inappropriate.”

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However, McGraw remained entirely unrepentant about issuing the press release in question. In a defiant interview with Entertainment Tonight the outspoken host said, “Somebody needs to step up and provide a vector to get this young woman into some quality care… I do not apologize one whit, not one second.”

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McGraw was also supported by Joyce Brothers, a fellow TV psychologist. She told The Orange County Register, “I’m sure Dr. Phil does not want to exploit her. He has all this experience in helping people get over problems. He has a lot to offer. But only to the person who wants it.”

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McGraw didn’t face any disciplinary action for his conduct towards Spears. The California Board of Psychology reportedly did receive an official complaint from an unnamed psychologist about the violation of privilege between doctor and patient. However, this was never confirmed by the board and ex-president Martin Greenberg told The Today Show that the matter wasn’t a legal one anyway.

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McGraw’s lack of a professional license was also discussed during a backlash against his comments on the coronavirus lockdown in 2020. In an interview on The Ingraham Angle on Fox News, the star claimed that 360,000 people die from swimming pool-related incidents each year. He then added, “But, we don’t shut the country down for that, but yet, we’re doing it for this and the fallout is going to last for years because people’s lives are being destroyed.”

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However, McGraw’s figure was wildly off the mark. In fact, only 3,709 accidental drownings were reported in the United States in 2017 — and not all of them occurred in swimming pools. Many social media users saw this as yet another example of how dangerous McGraw can be when it comes to informing the general public about serious medical issues.

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