Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Dr. Phil, Dr. Laura, and "personal responsibility"

There’s one thing I’ve noticed about Dr. Phil’s show: most of the people that he picks to be on the show have indeed done some pretty dumb things, or don’t follow through with their “choices”.

Hal Arkowithz and Scott O. Lilienfield have an article on p 64 of the September/October 2010 issue of Scientific American, “The ‘Just Do It’ Trap: Why Dr. Phil and Dr. Laura won’t solve your problems, link here.  The writers say that both Dr. Phil and Dr. Laura engage in “blaming the victim” and that “they often take individual accountability to an extreme, implying that people are to blame for all their difficulties when, in fact, factors such as an individual’s genetic makeup, personal history and current circumstances may contribute significantly to psychological problems.” They also say that both therapists show “lack of empathy.”

Dr. Laura made some enemies with her “biological errors” line (and the tautological "I am my kids' mom"), but Dr. Phil presents an interesting puzzle. He sometimes hints that he could take people into more old-fashioned territory with his “Man Camp”. But I can recall only one show where he dealt with someone faced with sacrificing for someone else’s needs, out of belonging to a family or community. That was a situation where someone did not want to give a kidney to a drug-abusing brother.  There was anothe show where a couple had ten children and pressured the oldest boy to take care of all the younger siblings, as his assigned task in life.

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