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Phil McGraw

Phillip Calvin McGraw (born September 1, 1950), best known as Dr. Phil, is an American television personality, psychologist and author who is the host of the psychology themed television show Dr. Phil. He gained celebrity status following appearances on The Oprah Winfrey Show.

Early life

McGraw was born in Vinita, Oklahoma, the son of Jerry (née Stevens) and Joe McGraw. He grew up with two older sisters, Deana and Donna, and younger sister, Brenda, 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 dream of becoming a psychologist. McGraw attended Shawnee Mission North High School in Mission, Kansas. In 1968, he was awarded a football scholarship to the University of Tulsa, where he played middle linebacker under Coach Glenn Dobbs (father of Gary Dobbs, who later went into business with McGraw). On November 23 of that year McGraw's team lost to the University of Houston 100-6, which is still one of the most lopsided games in college football history. Coach Dobbs retired after that season, and McGraw transferred to Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas, where he graduated in 1975 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology. He went on to earn a Master's degree in experimental psychology in 1976, and a Ph.D in clinical psychology in 1979 at the University of North Texas, where his dissertation was titled "Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Psychological Intervention." He also participated in the swimming programs at the two schools.


McGraw owned a construction business with his brother-in-law while completing his internship for his Ph.D.

After graduation, Phillip McGraw joined his father, Dr. Joe McGraw, in Wichita Falls, Texas, where the elder McGraw had established his private psychology practice.

In 1983, McGraw and his father joined Thelma Box, a successful Texas business woman, in presenting "Pathways" seminars, "an experience-based training which allows individuals to achieve and create their own results. " 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 originated by Box and presented by McGraw in this seminar. McGraw admits that the material from Life Strategies, his first best seller, is taken directly from the Pathways seminar. However, he has never mentioned Thelma Box or her contributions to his success in any of his books or TV shows.

In 1989, McGraw was sanctioned by the Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists for an ethical violation involving a 19-year-old patient and employee (see "Criticisms & controversies: Sanctioned for unethical behavior", below). Due to the sanctions, McGraw was unable to practice psychology independently. Friction between Phillip and his father increased to the point that McGraw seldom spoke with his father, and his contempt for him became obvious.

In 1990, McGraw joined lawyer Gary Dobbs, the son of McGraw's college football coach, in co-founding Courtroom Sciences, Inc. (CSI), a trial consulting firm through which McGraw later came into contact with Oprah Winfrey. Their first couple of years in business were not financially successful. On October 15, 1991, McGraw signed an agreement for the sale of his Pathways seminar stock for $325,000 without notifying either his father or Thelma Box of the impending sale. "There was a feeling of betrayal because Phil had compromised the integrity of the program. The accusation is that he reduced Box's asset value in the corporation by selling behind her back." Box founded her own seminars entitled “Choices”." Eventually, CSI became a profitable enterprise, advising Fortune 500 companies and injured plaintiffs alike in achieving settlements. McGraw is no longer an officer or director of the company.

In 1995, Oprah Winfrey hired 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.

The next year, McGraw published his first best-selling book, Life Strategies, most of which was taken from the "Pathways" seminar that was originated by Thelma Box. In the next four years, McGraw published three additional best-selling relationship books, along with workbooks to complement them.

By September, 2002, McGraw formed Peteski Productions 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.

McGraw shifted focus in 2003–4 to emphasize weight loss shows, books and products. His sisters Deana and Brenda and nephew Tony were among the featured testimonials on the Dr. Phil show. Within a few years, a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) probe and class-action lawsuit forced him to exit the weight loss business (see "Criticisms & controversies: Weight loss products", below).

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 will pay McGraw $15 million a year and keep the show in production through the 2013–2014 television season.

After 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 in 2005, following a renovated family lawsuit, McGraw and his son formed Stage 29 Productions. A week later, they announced a new show called Moochers (a clone of ABC's Kicked Out), and McGraw released his last book, Love Smart. However, the show was canceled before any episodes aired, and the book failed to 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 in a studio back lot. McGraw reached the number 22 spot on the Forbes Celebrity 100 list, with income of $45 milion.

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. Ratings for the Dr. Phil show in 2007 began to slide. In May, viewership was close to 7 million people. 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). By August 2008, viewership slipped to just over 4 million people. Two weeks later, the show slipped beneath the Nielsen top 12 syndicated TV shows, and has yet to resurface. McGraw's income fell by 1/3 to $30 million, and he dropped to the number 30 spot on the Forbes Celebrity 100 list.

Late in 2007, McGraw began promoting his upcoming Dr. Phil Show extension, The Doctors, which launched in Fall 2008. The show is hosted by television personality and ER physician Dr. Travis Stork (The Bachelor). Other experts were to include various personalities who have appeared on the Dr. Phil show over the years: Dr. Lisa Masterson, an obstetrician/gynecologist; Dr. Andrew Ordon, a plastic surgeon; Dr. Tara Fields, a licensed marriage and family therapist; and Dr. Jim Sears, a pediatrician. However, Dr. Fields was subsequently dropped from the show. These doctors appeared on the Dr. Phil show throughout 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." Jay McGraw (Dr. Phil's eldest son) is executive producer of the new show. By it's second week (ending September 21, 2008), the show had a 1.3 rating.

In January, 2008, McGraw visited celebrity Britney Spears in her hospital room. The visit and subsequent press release by McGraw drew criticism from the Spears family and from mental health professionals (see "Criticisms & controversies: Britney Spears intervention", below).

On April 13, 2008, Dr. Phil was embroiled in controversy again when a producer for his show secured $30,000 bail for the ringleader of a group of eight teenage girls who viciously beat another girl and then videotaped the attack. She had been booked at the Polk County (Florida) Jail on charges that included kidnapping and assault. Producers of the show made plans to tape a one-hour show devoted to the incident and sent a production assistant to Orlando to help book guests for the show. However, when news broke that Dr. Phil posted bail for her, 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.

Criticisms & controversies

Sanctioned for unethical behavior (1989)

The Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists imposed disciplinary sanctions on McGraw on January 27, 1989 for an inappropriate "dual relationship" reported in 1988 by a female therapy client/employee from 1984. McGraw was ordered by the Board to take an ethics class, pass a jurisprudence exam, complete a physical evaluation, undergo a psychological evaluation, and have his practice supervised for one year in order to continue his private practice in Texas. McGraw admits to giving the client a "job" at his office (which is not allowed), but denied carrying on a sexual relationship with the 19-year-old, who says their relationship was "sexually inappropriate". As of 2008, McGraw has not completed the conditions imposed by the Board of Examiners of Psychologists, and he is not licensed to practice psychology in Texas, California, or anywhere else.

Weight loss products (2003)

In 2003, McGraw entered the weight-loss business, selling shakes, energy bars, and supplements. These products' labels, which carried the brand name "Shape Up", 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, 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. McGraw settled the suit in September 2006 for $10.5 million. Some of the settlement ($6 million) may be paid to the plaintiffs in the form of Amway (Quixtar) brand Nutrilite vitamins.

Unauthorized biography (2003)

The Making of Dr. Phil is a biography by Sophia Dembling, a reporter from the Dallas Morning News, and Lisa Gutierrez, a reporter from The Kansas City Star. The book probed McGraw's history, with interviews of his childhood friends and former classmates. The book reported that McGraw used unethical business practices in a gym business early in his career, that he was abusive to his first wife, and was also abusive 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.

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. The lawsuit was filed by Deepak Kalpoe and his brother Satish Kalpoe, who claimed that an interview they did with McGraw, aired in September of 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.'" 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.

Britney Spears "intervention" (2008)

McGraw attracted criticism for his unannounced visit to celebrity Britney Spears' hospital room in January 2008. 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. Immediately after the visit, McGraw issued public statements about Spears' situation that Spears' 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. Several mental health care professionals criticized McGraw for his actions; however, fellow TV psychologist Dr. Joyce Brothers defended McGraw. One professional psychologist filed a complaint with the California Board of Psychology alleging that Dr. Phil practiced clinical psychology without a license and violated doctor-patient privilege by discussing Spears' case with the media. He also started a petition to have the Dr. Phil show removed from the air.

Approach to psychology

His technique, which differs considerably from traditional psychology, has been criticized by those inside and outside the profession. McGraw's critics regard advice given by him to be at best simplistic, and at worst, invective. McGraw has said he never liked traditional counseling and was awkward in one-on-one situations. In Psychology Today journalist Pamela Paul writes that McGraw "knows what's best and he's not afraid to tell you. Dr. Phil issues counsel as marching orders. McGraw himself admits that "I'm not the Hush-Puppies, pipe and 'Let's talk about your mother' kind of psychologist'".

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 many children and families.

Personal life

McGraw's first marriage and subsequent divorce was not publicized until a 2002 Newsweek cover story. The "secret first wife of Dr. Phil" was ex-cheerleader and homecoming queen Debbie Higgins McCall, who married McGraw in 1970. According to her, Phil was domineering and would not allow her to participate in the family business, a health spa. Instead, she was confined to domestic duties, which included lifting weights to improve her bustline.

McGraw had multiple affairs with other women. McCall stated, "When I confronted him about his infidelities he didn't deny these girls and told me that it had nothing to do with his feelings toward me, to grow up, that's the way it was in the world." The relationship ended when she left him in 1973.

McGraw soon began dating a 20-year old college student, Robin Jo Jameson, whom he married almost three years later. The day of the wedding, she dropped out of school, quit her job and became a stay-at-home wife. Three years later, she became a stay-at-home mom when son Jay was born in 1979. Jay remained an only child until age 7, when Jordan was born in 1986.

Jay McGraw has partially followed in his father's footsteps, publishing books aimed at teenagers based on McGraw's books and working for his father's production company, Stage 29. Three months after Dr. Phil was scammed on his "Bad Influences" show by the infamous twin porn stars, Crystal and Jocelyn Potter, Jay McGraw became engaged to Erica Dahm, one of the famous Playboy Playmate triplets. Dr. Phil, who has been an outspoken critic of pornography, was Best Man at the wedding, which was held at his home in Beverly Hills.

Jordan is currently a sophomore at the University of Southern California and is pursuing his interests in music.


In The Suite Life of Zack and Cody episode "Ask Zack," when Darlene takes Shirley's (a.k.a. Zack) advice to date Zack, she tells him that she can open up to him, to which Zack responds, "just think of me as Dr. Phil with hair". Dr. Phyllis, an obvious parody of McGraw, is mocked when Drake and Josh in Drake & Josh go to Dr. Phyllis to patch their relationship after a big fight. The parody was also used in a Brandy and Mr. Whiskers episode. A Muppet character called Dr. Feel appears on Sesame Street.

McGraw appeared in the opening scene of Scary Movie 4, spoofing the horror film Saw. In April 2003 he also appeared in an episode of Frasier - "The Devil and Dr. Phil" - as himself in which he was an old friend of Frasier Crane. He is also featured in a halloween episode of the The Simpsons in season 18.

The show was spoofed during a scene where R.J. and the forest friends flip channels on the HDTV set in the film Over the Hedge. McGraw is parodied in the video game Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories on its soundtrack as the host of a show called "Heartland Values with Nurse Bob."

McGraw has stated that his favorite Dr. Phil joke was told by David Letterman: "He was introducing some new books coming out, and he held up one by Dr. Phil with the title More Advice I Pulled Out of My Ass (seen here). I thought, That's pretty funny. I liked that."


  • McGraw, Phillip C. (1999). Life Strategies: Doing What Works, Doing What Matters. New York: Hyperion Books.
  • McGraw, Phillip C. (2000). The Relationship Rescue Workbook. New York: Hyperion.
  • McGraw, Phillip C. (2000). Relationship Rescue. New York: Hyperion.
  • McGraw, Phillip C. (2001). The Life Strategies Self-Discovery Journal: Finding What Matters Most for You. New York: Hyperion.
  • McGraw, Phillip C. (2001). Self Matters: Creating Your Life from the Inside Out. New York: Simon & Schuster Source.
  • McGraw, Phillip C. (2002). Getting Real: Lessons in Life, Marriage, and Family. Hay House Audio Books.
  • McGraw, Phillip C. (2003). The Self Matters Companion : Helping You Create Your Life from the Inside Out. New York: Free Press.
  • McGraw, Phillip C. (2003). The Ultimate Weight Solution: The 7 Keys to Weight Loss Freedom. New York: Free Press.
  • McGraw, Phillip C. (2003). The Ultimate Weight Solution Food Guide. Pocket Books.
  • McGraw, Phillip C. (2004). The Ultimate Weight Solution Cookbook: Recipes for Weight Loss Freedom. New York: Free Press.
  • McGraw, Phillip C. (2005). Family First : Your Step-by-Step Plan for Creating a Phenomenal Family. New York: Free Press.
  • McGraw, Phillip C. (2005). The Family First Workbook : Specific Tools, Strategies, and Skills for Creating a Phenomenal Family. New York: Free Press.
  • McGraw, Phillip C. (2006). Love Smart: Find the One You Want--Fix the One You Got. New York: Free Press.



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