The American Psychological Association said in 2006 that Dr. Phil McGraw's “work has touched more Americans than any other living psychologist," but not all of the guests on his TV show feel the same way. A bombshell report from STAT and The Boston Globe on Dec. 28 claimed that Dr. Phil and his staff encouraged many drug addicted and alcoholic guests to use before the show to make for a more compelling interview. The most famous story came from former Survivor winner Todd Herzog.
“Today, I had an entire bottle, like a liter, of vodka,” said Todd after being carried on stage in 2013. He took a breathalyzer that read .263, three times the limit for a DUI. Phil said, “I’ve never talked to a guest who was closer to death." However, Todd now claims that he was sober when he arrived in LA for the show. After spending 48 hours in a hotel room, he went to his dressing room to prepare for the show. That's where he found a full bottle of vodka. After drinking it, he said a staff member offered him Xanax to calm his nerves.
Though Todd is now clean and is grateful for the help and free treatment, he also knows he was taken advantage of. “You know, I get that it’s a television show and that they want to show the pain that I’m in,” he told STAT and The Globe. “However, what would have happened if I died there? You know, that’s horrifying.” Many more guests also admit to being aided in finding drugs, or being offered no help at all.
Marianne Smith and her niece Jordan were guests on the show in 2012. Jordan was a heroin addict and Marianne became concerned that Jordan was going through extreme and dangerous withdrawals in the hotel room without medical care. In a desperate plea, she told the producers that she needed to get heroin for Jordan. “They told us where to go, Skid Row," she explained. "I was so scared. We never had anyone. It was just the three of us girls the entire time.” While Todd was grateful for the help his appearance provided, Marianne said it was useless. “It was a complete bust,” she said of the show. “Didn’t help at all. Just ratings for him. People are going to him, like us, with serious, life-threatening problems looking for help. It just doesn’t happen.“
In October 2016, Joelle King-Parrish brought her pregnant 28-year-old daughter Kaitlin to appear on the show and get help. With no supervision, Joelle feared Kaitlyn would go into withdrawal, which could harm her baby even more. After being told to “take care of it" by staff, Joelle brought her daughter to a hospital, but when she refused to stay there, a producer brought them to Skid Row to get heroin, and filmed the whole thing.
Even employees have been uncomfortable with what they saw on set. A 2016 lawsuit from former segment director, Leah Rothman, claimed that Phil trapped employees in a room to threaten them over media leaks. She also said many guests felt that their lives had been "ruined" and one even tried to kill themselves after the show. “Plaintiff’s experience with Dr. Phil was that his primary interest was not about helping people on the show, but rather, done for the sake of ratings and making money,” said the federal lawsuit. “Dr. Phil often embarrassed guests on his show in their darkest hour, leaving the staff to pick up the pieces of the broken people who had put their trust in Dr. Phil.”
Dr. Phil denied Leah's claims, and his show's rep Martin Greenberg said that Todd's claims are also “absolutely, unequivocally untrue... Dr. McGraw has a very strong sense of trying to not exploit people,” he said. “Now it is a television show. These people volunteer to come on. They beg to come on. And he tries to treat them with respect … and to give them the opportunity to get help if they want to do that. It’s not a complicated formula.”