Dr. Phil has been accused of being a predatory charlatan, exploiting the mentally unwell in the service of ratings. But a new report from STAT and the Boston Globe takes those charges a cut deeper, alleging that America’s prevailing TV psychiatrist has actually provided drugs and alcohol to guests struggling with addiction.
The piece includes testimony from a number of vulnerable guests who said their addictions were enabled, and even encouraged, by Dr. Phil (whose full name is Philip McGraw) and his staff. Todd Herzog, a former Survivor winner, struggled with drinking in the years after his success on the show. He was scheduled to be a guest on Dr. Phil following a traumatizing intervention in 2013, in which he was plucked from his Utah apartment and flown to LA. When he arrived at the set, Herzog said he was sober, but found a bottle of vodka waiting for him in his dressing room. At some point, a crew member also handed him a Xanax, which they said would help him “calm his nerves.” Herzog drank the vodka and swallowed the Xanax; by the time he lurched onto the set, he was completely intoxicated. From STAT:
“Today, I had an entire bottle, like a liter, of vodka,” Todd Herzog told McGraw on stage. When Dr. Phil breathalyzed him in front of the studio audience, Herzog blew a .263—more than three times the legal limit to drive.
“You know, I get that it’s a television show and that they want to show the pain that I’m in,” Herzog said in the interview. “However, what would have happened if I died there? You know, that’s horrifying.”
Herzog isn’t the only one to accuse Dr. Phil of abetting their addictions for viewership. One guest was allegedly helped by staff to acquire drugs:
Marianne Smith’s niece, Jordan, appeared on the show in 2012, in an episode called “Young, Reckless, and Enabled.” Smith said she contacted the show to help her niece break her heroin addiction. Smith said that when she, Jordan, and Jordan’s mother arrived in Los Angeles from out of state, Jordan began going through withdrawal. Smith said she and Jordan’s mother were concerned for her well-being, and told a show producer she needed heroin.
“They told us where to go, Skid Row,” Smith said. “I was so scared.”
Dr. Phil staff have denied the allegations in varying ways. Martin Greenberg, the show’s Director of Professional Affairs, called the allegations “absolutely, unequivocally untrue.”
“Addicts are notorious for lying, deflecting and trivializing. But if they are at risk when they arrive, then they were at risk before they arrived,” he told STAT and the Globe in a statement. “The only change is they are one step closer to getting help, typically help they could not have even come close to affording.”
In spite of his experience, Herzog maintains that he considers his encounters with McGraw to be a net positive.
“I’m grateful in a lot of ways for the show. For getting me help in the nicest places in the country. That’s a gift right there,” he said. “There are some things about the show that I don’t like, and that I don’t think are real. … I should have been in the hospital, in that sense. There should not be liters of vodka in my dressing room.”
McGraw, meanwhile, raked in $79 million last year.