Phil McGraw

Phillip Calvin McGraw (born September 1, 1950), also known as Dr. Phil, is an American television personality and author who is the host of the television show Dr. Phil. He holds a doctorate in clinical psychology, but is not licensed to practice. McGraw first gained celebrity status with appearances on The Oprah Winfrey Show in the late 1990s.

Phil McGraw
McGraw photographed by Jerry Avenaim for the cover of Newsweek, 2001
Phillip Calvin McGraw

(1950-09-01) September 1, 1950
ResidenceBeverly Hills, California, U.S.
Alma mater
  • Debbie Higgins McCall
    (m. 1970; annulled 1973)
  • Robin Jameson (m. 1976)
Children2, including Jay

Raised in the Midwestern United States, McGraw played college football for the University of Tulsa and Midwestern State University, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in psychology. He then earned his Master of Arts in experimental psychology and Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of North Texas. He began working in private practice for several years while also holding large seminars for patients.

McGraw's fame began in 1998, when he began making weekly appearances on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Oprah Winfrey then helped McGraw launch his own program, Dr. Phil, in September 2002. The show is formatted as an advice show. In October 2003, he launched the Dr. Phil Foundation which is dedicated toward fighting childhood obesity.

Early life

McGraw was born in Vinita, Oklahoma, on September 1, 1950, the son of Joseph J. McGraw Jr. and his wife, Anne Geraldine "Jerry" (née Stevens).[1][2][3] He grew up with two older sisters, Deana and Donna, and younger sister Brenda[4] in the oilfields of North Texas where his father was an equipment supplier. During McGraw's childhood, his family moved so his father could pursue a lifelong goal of becoming a psychologist.

McGraw attended Shawnee Mission North High School in Overland Park, Kansas. In 1968, he was awarded a football scholarship to the University of Tulsa, where he played middle linebacker under coach Glenn Dobbs. On November 23 of that year, McGraw's team lost to the University of Houston 100–6, which is one of the most lopsided games in college football history.[5] Coach Dobbs retired after that season and McGraw transferred to Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas.

Education and early career

McGraw graduated in 1975 from Midwestern State University with a B.A. in psychology. He went on to earn an M.A. in experimental psychology in 1976, and a Ph.D. degree in clinical psychology in 1979 at the University of North Texas,[6] where his dissertation was titled "Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Psychological Intervention".[7] McGraw was guided through the doctoral program by Frank Lawlis, who later became the primary contributing psychologist for the Dr. Phil television show.[8]

After obtaining his doctorate, McGraw joined his father, Joe McGraw, in Wichita Falls, Texas, where the elder McGraw had established his private psychology practice.[9]

In 1983, McGraw and his father joined Thelma Box, a successful Texas businesswoman, in presenting "Pathways" seminars, "experience-based training which allows individuals to achieve and create their own results."[10] Critics claim that many of the "phrases and the terminology and the quaint sayings" used by McGraw on the Oprah and Dr. Phil shows were coined by Box and presented by McGraw in this seminar. McGraw admits that some of the material from Life Strategies, his first best-seller, is taken directly from the Pathways seminar. However, he has never mentioned Box or her contributions to his success in any of his books or TV shows.[11] Eight years after joining Box, McGraw signed an agreement for the sale of his Pathways seminar stock for $325,000 without notifying either his father or Box of the impending sale.[11] Box founded her own seminars titled "Choices."[12]

Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists

On October 21, 1988, the Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists determined that McGraw had hired a former patient for "part-time temporary employment".[13] Specifically, the board cited "a possible failure to provide proper separation between termination of therapy and the initiation of employment",[14] issued a letter of reprimand and imposed administrative penalties.[15] The board also investigated claims made by the patient of inappropriate contact initiated by McGraw, but the "Findings of Fact" document issued by the board on October 21, 1988, at the end of its investigation includes no reference to any physical contact of any kind. It specifically identified "the therapeutic and business relationships" as constituting McGraw's sole issue with the board.[15] McGraw fulfilled all terms of the board's requirements, and the board closed its complaint file in June 1990.[16]

Lack of license to practice

McGraw no longer holds a license to practice psychology of any kind in Texas or any other state in the United States. McGraw has been involved in several controversies which put his license to practice at risk. He was brought up on ethics charges for having an inappropriate non-physical relationship with a patient in Texas in January 1989[17] and had a formal criminal complaint filed against him in California in 2008 for practicing psychology without a professional license or certification and violating doctor-patient confidentiality in connection with an incident with Britney Spears in 2008.[18]

McGraw is shown to have "voluntarily surrendered" his Texas license in 2006, and he has never held a license to practice psychology in any other state, including California, since. This has led several leading clinical psychologists in California to question whether his program violates the law by offering the services of a "psychologist", despite the voluminous paperwork that his production company asks guests to sign stating that they are only receiving "advice" on the program. Practicing psychology without a license in California is a felony.[19]

Courtroom Sciences, Inc

In 1990, McGraw joined lawyer Gary Dobbs in co-founding Courtroom Sciences, Inc. (CSI), a trial consulting firm through which McGraw later came into contact with Oprah Winfrey.[20] Eventually, CSI became a profitable enterprise, advising Fortune 500 companies and injured plaintiffs in achieving settlements. McGraw is no longer an officer or director of the company.[20]

After starting CSI, McGraw ceased the practice of psychology. He kept his license current and in good standing until he elected to retire it 15 years later in 2006.[21] Appearing on the Today Show in January 2008, McGraw said that he has made it "very clear" that his current work does not involve the practice of psychology. He also said that he had "retired from psychology".[22]

The TV show Bull is based on his experience as a trial consultant, and he is credited as one of the creators of the series.[23]

Television career

Oprah Winfrey and the Dr. Phil show

In 1995, Oprah Winfrey hired McGraw's legal consulting firm CSI to prepare her for the Amarillo Texas beef trial. Winfrey was so impressed with McGraw that she thanked him for her victory in that case, which ended in 1998. Soon after, she invited him to appear on her show. His appearance proved so successful that he began appearing weekly as a relationship and life strategy expert on Tuesdays starting in April 1998.[24]

The next year, McGraw published his first best-selling book, Life Strategies.[11] In the next four years, McGraw published three additional best-selling relationship books, along with workbooks to complement them.

As of September 2002, McGraw formed Peteski Productions[25] and launched his own syndicated daily television show, Dr. Phil, produced by Winfrey's Harpo Studios. The format is an advice show, where he tackles a different topic on each show, offering advice for his guests' troubles.

Weight loss products

In 2003, McGraw entered the weight loss business, selling shakes, energy bars, and supplements. These products were promoted on his show with his sisters Deana and Brenda and nephew Tony among the featured testimonials on the show.[26] These products' labels, which carried the brand name "Shape It Up, Woo, Woo!", stated: "These products contain scientifically researched levels of ingredients that can help you change your behavior to take control of your weight." This met with swift criticism from various sources,[24] accusing McGraw (a clinical psychologist, and not a physician) of lacking the expertise to recommend weight loss products. Facing a Federal Trade Commission investigation into Shape Up's claims, McGraw pulled his supplements off the market in March 2004, and the FTC dropped its probe. In October 2005, several people who used McGraw's products declared an intent to file a class action lawsuit against him, claiming that although the supplements cost $120 per month they did not stimulate weight loss.[27] McGraw settled the suit in September 2006 for $10.5 million.[28] Some of the settlement ($6 million) may be paid to the plaintiffs in the form of Amway (Quixtar) brand Nutrilite vitamins.[29]

The Making of Dr. Phil unauthorized biography (2003)

The Making of Dr. Phil is an unauthorized biography by Sophia Dembling, a reporter from The Dallas Morning News, and Lisa Gutierrez, a reporter from The Kansas City Star.[2] The book probes McGraw's history, with interviews of his childhood friends and former classmates. The book reports that McGraw allegedly used unethical business practices in a gym business early in his career, that he was allegedly abusive to his first wife and to his staff, while noting that he overcame adversity through setting goals and was persistent in achieving success. The book received no promotional help from McGraw or his associates.[30]

In 2005, McGraw published another best-selling book, Family First, along with a workbook. He also signed a five-year extension of his syndication deal with his show's distributors, King World Productions, Inc. The deal was to pay McGraw $15 million a year[31] and keep the show in production through the 2013–2014 television season.[32][33]

Spin-off shows

Also in 2005, McGraw's son Jay's television show Renovate My Family (a clone of ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition) was canceled at the start of its second season following a renovated family's lawsuit.[34][35] Jay McGraw and Phil McGraw then formed Stage 29 Productions.[36] A week later, McGraw and son announced a new show called Moochers (a clone of ABC's Kicked Out);[37] however, the show was canceled before any episodes aired. McGraw also released another book, Love Smart, which did not achieve the success of his previous bestsellers.

In 2006, the Dr. Phil House (a clone of CBS's Big Brother) began airing as part of the Dr. Phil television show. Following a protest by neighbors, the house in Los Angeles was shut down, and production resumed on a sound stage on a studio back lot.[38] McGraw reached the number 22 spot on the Forbes Celebrity 100 list, with income of $45 million.[39]

Another Stage 29 show, Decision House (a remix of the Dr. Phil House) aired from September through November 2007 but was canceled due to poor reviews and dismal ratings.[40] Ratings for the Dr. Phil show in 2007 began to slide. In May, viewership was close to 7 million people.[41] However, by year's end, viewership was about 5.5 million people (#10 for syndicated TV shows, and just under Everybody Loves Raymond, Family Guy and CSI: Miami).[42] By August 2008, viewership slipped to just over 4 million people.[43] Two weeks later, the show slipped beneath the Nielsen top 12 syndicated TV shows, and has since resurfaced.[44] McGraw's income fell by 1/3 to $30 million, and he dropped to the number 30 spot on the Forbes Celebrity 100 list.[45]

Late in 2007, McGraw began promoting his 2008 Dr. Phil Show extension, The Doctors.[46] The show is hosted by television personality and ER physician Travis Stork (The Bachelor). Other experts scheduled to appear include various personalities who have appeared on the Dr. Phil show over the years, such as Lisa Masterson, an obstetrician/gynecologist; Andrew Ordon, a plastic surgeon; and Jim Sears, a pediatrician.[47] Masterson, Ordon, and Sears appeared on the Dr. Phil show during the 2007–08 season so that McGraw could instruct them on "how to give articulate medical advice while being scrutinized by a studio audience in Los Angeles." McGraw's eldest son, Jay McGraw, is executive producer of the show. The Doctors debuted on September 8, 2008, and, as of November 10, 2008, had a 2.0 rating.[48]

Controversies and lawsuits

Kalpoe lawsuit (2006)

McGraw was named a co-defendant, along with CBS Television, in a 2006 lawsuit filed in relation to the disappearance of Natalee Holloway.[49] The lawsuit was filed by Deepak Kalpoe and his brother Satish Kalpoe, who claimed that an interview they did with McGraw, aired in September 2005, was "manipulated and later broadcast as being accurate, and which portrays Deepak Kalpoe and Satish Kalpoe 'as engaging in criminal activity against Natalee Holloway and constitutes defamation.'"[49] The Kalpoe brothers claimed invasion of privacy, fraud, deceit, defamation, emotional distress, and civil conspiracy in the suit, which was filed in the Los Angeles Superior Court.[50][51]

On March 17, 2015, the lawsuit against McGraw and CBS was dismissed.[52] The court records disclosed the lawsuit by Deepak and Satish Kalpoe was rejected one week before the civil trial was set to begin.[53][54]

Britney Spears "intervention" (2008)

In January 2008, McGraw visited pop star Britney Spears in her hospital room.[55] The visit by McGraw drew criticism from the Spears family and from mental health professionals.

The visit appeared to be part of an attempt at getting Spears and her parents to take part in an "intervention" on the Dr. Phil television show.[56] Immediately after the visit, McGraw issued public statements[57][58] about Spears's situation that Spears's family spokeswoman Lou Taylor said violated their family trust in McGraw. "This is another example of a trust being betrayed", Taylor told Today co-host Meredith Vieira. "Rather than helping the family’s situation, the celebrity psychologist caused additional damage", she said.[59] Several mental health care professionals criticized McGraw for his actions, but fellow television psychologist Joyce Brothers defended McGraw.[60] It was reported that a psychologist filed a complaint with the California Board of Psychology (BOP), alleging that McGraw had practiced psychology without a license and had violated doctor-patient privilege by discussing Spears's case with the media.[61] A copy of the complaint appeared in the media,[61] but there is no way to verify whether or not it was actually submitted to the BOP. The BOP does not disclose that information unless an investigation is opened.[62] Martin Greenberg, a former BOP President, said on the Today Show that this incident was not a matter that the law covers or would be concerned about.[62]

Polk County, Florida, bail controversy (2008)

On April 13, 2008, a producer for the Dr. Phil show secured $30,000 bail for the ringleader of a group of eight teenage girls who viciously beat another girl and videotaped the attack.[63] The teen had been booked at the Polk County, Florida, jail on charges that included kidnapping and assault. Producers of the Dr. Phil show had made plans to tape a one-hour show devoted to the incident and had sent a production assistant to Orlando to help book guests for the show, but when news broke that the Dr. Phil show producer had posted bail for the teen, the outcry caused the show to cancel their plans. "In this case certain staffers went beyond our guidelines," said Theresa Corigliano, spokesperson for the Dr. Phil show. "We have decided not to go forward with the story as our guidelines have been compromised."[64]

Riccio lawsuit (2008)

McGraw was sued by Thomas Riccio, the memorabilia collector responsible for taping the Las Vegas robbery that led to O. J. Simpson being convicted. Riccio sued McGraw in Los Angeles Superior Court for defamation, fraud, intentional infliction of emotional distress and false light for what Riccio claims to have been deceitful editing of the Dr. Phil Show on which he appeared in early October 2008.[65] The claims of defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and false light were dismissed, with the judge finding that it was protected speech under the First Amendment.[66]

Comments about college admission bribery scandal (2019)

In an interview with People in April 2019 regarding the ongoing college admission scandal, McGraw said the parents' activities were about wanting a status symbol for their families, saying the parents wanted children who go to Harvard, Yale, or USC "and not be the parent who says my kid goes to, uh, Slippery Rock." Many SRU alumni voiced their outrage on social media, while the university released a statement saying McGraw's educational background shows the importance of regional public universities. SRU invited McGraw to speak during the upcoming fall semester.[67] McGraw posted an apology on Twitter, stating that he picked Slippery Rock as a random name and was unaware it is an actual university.[68]

Approach to psychology

McGraw's advice and methods have drawn criticism from some fellow psychotherapists as well as from some laypeople. McGraw's critics regard advice given by him to be at best simplistic and at worst ineffective.[69] The National Alliance on Mental Illness called McGraw's conduct in one episode of his television show "unethical" and "incredibly irresponsible".[70] McGraw said in a 2001 South Florida newspaper interview that he never liked traditional one-on-one counseling, and that "I'm not the Hush-Puppies, pipe and 'Let's talk about your mother' kind of psychologist."[71]

Charitable foundation

McGraw announced the formation of the Dr. Phil Foundation, which raises funds to fight childhood obesity, on October 22, 2003. The Foundation also supports charitable organizations that help address the emotional, spiritual, and monetary needs of children and families.[72]

Personal life

McGraw married his first wife, an ex-cheerleader and homecoming queen named Debbie Higgins McCall, in 1970, when he was 20 years old.[9] According to her, McGraw was domineering and would not allow her to participate in the family business. She claimed that she was confined to domestic duties, which included lifting weights to improve her bustline.[73]

During the process of annulling the marriage in 1973, McGraw began dating Robin Jo Jameson, whom he married in 1976.[74] The couple had two children, Jay McGraw and Jordan.[75]

McGraw's son Jay has partially followed in his father's footsteps, publishing books aimed at teenagers based on McGraw's books and working for Stage 29. Jay McGraw became engaged to Erica Dahm, one of the famous Playboy Playmate triplets.[76] The elder McGraw was best man at his son's wedding which was held at his home in Beverly Hills.[77]

McGraw is also a private pilot, with an instrument rating, flying single-engine airplanes.[78] McGraw has identified himself as a Christian.[79]

On October 21, 2017, he was threatened with lawsuit when he accidentally hit a skateboarder with his Mercedes-Benz.[80][81]

Selected works


Year Title Role Notes
2003 Frasier Himself Episode: The Devil and Dr. Phil [82]
2004 Sesame Street 2 episodes[83]
2006 Scary Movie 4 Film; Cameo appearance[84]
2006 The Simpsons Himself (voice) Episode: Treehouse of Horror XVII[85]
2009 Madea Goes to Jail Himself Film; Cameo appearance[86]
2009 Curb Your Enthusiasm Episode: Vehicular Fellatio[87]
2010 Hannah Montana Episode: I'll Always Remember You[88]
2016 WWE Raw Episode: April 11, 2016[89]
2019 PewDiePie's Meme Review Episode: "Dr Phil hosts Meme Review"


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