Access to psychology. That's what Phil McGraw, PhD-television's "Dr. Phil"-aims to offer Americans. Why and how he does so through his show is the focus of his invited presidential address at APA's 2006 Annual Convention in New Orleans.
The show's mission is to educate people on psychological issues they might otherwise not know about or understand, he says. Recent topics include parenting, weight loss, abusive relationships and various psychological disorders.
"Take the millions who live with depression: They're tired. They don't eat or sleep well. They aren't happy-but they don't know any different," he explains. "If all you've ever driven is a '58 Volkswagen, you don't know what it's like to drive in a new Cadillac."
The "Dr. Phil" show seeks to communicate that life can be different, says McGraw, but it's not a substitute for psychological ser vices. For guests and viewers alike, the show's information provides a starting point for professional help, he claims.
He believes the show is also helping to improve psychology's public image by:
Destigmatizing. Mental health services are still stigmatized in much of the country, he says. The show's message that facing problems takes strength can help dissolve such stigma, according to McGraw.
Demystifying. Many people aren't sure what to expect from a psychologist, says McGraw. In his view, the show highlights areas where professionals can intervene to help people thrive.
When discussing psychological topics and intervention, McGraw taps his own clinical experience as a private practitioner and hospital psychologist. In the past, he also evaluated and reported on patients with brain and spinal cord injuries for the courts, which led him to found the company Courtroom Sciences. When the company began representing TV networks, he met Oprah Winfrey, who invited him onto her show and then helped him launch his own show.
In his convention talk, McGraw plans to give psychologists a behind-the-scenes look at the show's operations-which involve a 250-person staff and a national advisory board of professionals, researchers and educators in mental health areas.
The show occupies early access and some prime time spots nationwide, and has been renewed for seven more seasons, an indicator of the public's hunger for psychology information, McGraw believes.
"Hopefully," he says, "I'm raising the awareness of the many dedicated, quality psychologists out there that people can avail themselves of."
-B. Murray Law
The "Dr. Phil" Web site is www.drphil.com.