On September 13th, Phil McGraw (the eponymous “Dr. Phil” of daytime TV fame) announced that he would be devoting that day’s show to the subject of domestic violence. He would also dedicate a portion of the show’s website to allow viewers to access information on the subject, including ways in which they themselves could get involved with the issue. A sincere attempt to tackle an enduring and emotional issue, it is nevertheless important to note that, Dr. McGraw’s “advice” should be taken with a grain of salt. Dr. McGraw is not a trained DV specialist, nor is he even, as of 2006, a licensed or practicing psychologist. (He is, however, still entitled to the prefix “Dr.”, as a holder of a valid Ph.D). And while his methods may be dubiously professional, his show’s message is nevertheless still valid: Domestic violence is a real, recurring problem in America; and one that has been too long and too often ignored by society at large.
Periodically, “Dr. Phil” will resort to histrionic schtick–such as when he parades a horrifically-scarred survivor of DV out in front of a visibly-horrified audience. But, Dr. Phil nevertheless touches on several very important–and very sobering–key points and statistics:
A small ticker appears at the bottom of the screen, enumerating in simple (but effective) terms, how many women have statistically been victimized by that point of the show’s progression. Dr. Phil also makes a few salient points throughout his interaction with “Mike” (one of the abusers featured on the show) particularly this discussion on male privilege and the importance of being mindful of one’s capacity to intimidate.
Whatever else he may be (professionally, socially, or clinically), Mike serves as a classic example of what an abuser is, and what an abuser does:
- He constantly negates criticism or accusations against him, either by minimizing their severity or resorting to logical non sequitur–even going so far as to cite the Second Amendment, responding to Lorain’s eleven-year-old daughter’s fear that he might someday simply shoot her.
- He frequently attempts to undermine and discredit his victims and accusers; citing, for example, the fact that Lorain is “hyper-sensitive” for dialing 9-1-1 after an “simple” argument–in which he screamed at her from within two-inches of her face. And;
- He persistently attempts to deflect blame, often laying it at his victim’s feet; citing, for example, all the “numerous” (but unspecified) ways in which Lorain has “emotionally abused” him.
The excuses go on ad nauseum: the fact that Lorain has sought three protective orders against other men in the past is evidence that she is somehow mentally unstable, paranoid or “too sensitive,” while the fact that he (Mike) has also been the subject of two protective orders–taken out by two different women–seems neither hypocritical nor ironic to him in the least. Because, (and this is common with abusers) in his mind, he is the victim: because Dr. Phil is “taking her side,” because Lorain is somehow “too sensitive,” and because women have an almost magical power to take out restraining orders against men, unfairly. (The latter of which, at least, is a complete myth; many men have taken out orders against women, and even other men).
To his credit, Dr. Phil consistently refuses to let Mike justify his behavior or deflect the accusations against him. He repeatedly holds him accountable; and even after Mike appears (however superficially) to admit that he has a problem, Dr. Phil still impresses upon the victim (and, by extension, all victims of abuse) the importance of protecting herself from the relationship and her abuser as much as humanly possible. If not for her own sake, Dr. Phil argues, then for her children’s:
“Children that observe this…do not do well. They have a higher incidence of mental illness, they have a higher incidence of drug use, they have a higher incidence of alcohol abuse, they have a higher incidence of depression, and anxiety and lower academic achievement. They do not do well, kids that grow up in this kind of environment.”
It bears repeating again, that Dr. Phil is not a licensed mental health professional. But it is useful to see how endemic DV is in our society, and what simple steps we can take collectively, and individually, towards creating a safer environment. To learn more about how you can help, you can visit Dr. Phil’s website, or better yet, our own.