Reality Show Therapy: Why I Said No To Dr. Phil

In 2012, I was approached by one of the show’s producers to appear on a segment related to my struggle with Body Dysmorphic Disorder(BDD).  A disorder that while not talked about a lot publicly, affects 2-3 percent of the population men and women equally. A disorder that has been around for over 100 years but has really only been out of the shadows for about the last twenty. A disorder that played a substantial role in my battles with addiction, depression and eating disorders.

My struggle came to the show’s attention as a result of a local Dallas interview I did on the topic.(Scroll down to watch)  After the interview aired, the email came. A very nice email. While I knew the Dr. Phil show had a lot of “reality drama” to it, I was naturally excited. My first instinct was to jump at the opportunity for the exposure as I was writing my first book, “Shattered Image” at the time. It was specifically about my struggle with BDD.

At the time, I was just over five years into my sobriety, seeing a therapist once a week (I still do) and on my medication to control clinical depression and the obsessive/ compulsive urges that go hand and hand with BDD.  I was therefore not one of the desperate and vulnerable people who often go on his show. I simply saw an opportunity to get the word out about Body Dysmorphic Disorder.

I then went to YouTube and did a sampling of a few of his shows.  I saw parent and family blaming for a multitude of mental health disorders. I saw family and sibling drama. Tears. Shouting. Family battles brought into the public eye.  The revealing of a multitude of terrible traumatic events in an environment that clearly was not safe.  Mental health issues that even as a layman, I know cannot possibly be addressed in a healthy manner in the television segment when the primary goal is ratings, not the well-being of the guests.  It is not rocket science that drama drives those ratings. That drama certainly does not come at the expense of Dr. Phil.  It’s the guests who are often the collateral damage.

Knowing that this type of drama is the standard fare of the show, I then asked for my family’s input. I was especially worried that since I had no control over the show narrative it would be turned into my blaming my mother and family for my disorders and everything I went through. While through a lot of therapy, I realized none of it was her fault, at that point in my recovery, I often did not publicly express it in a way that conveyed the lack of blame.  My family urged me not to do the show for that reason. I could not control the Dr. Phil narrative.  As one of my siblings put it:

It’s like Jerry Springer without the boobs and fistfights

The selfish Brian wanted to get on the show and get the exposure. The Brian who had a book soon to be released. The Brian, however, who loved his family and respected their wishes not to be dragged into something that I had no control over declined the offer.  People have told me that I was an idiot for not doing the show.   Many book sales!  My response is that my dignity and the dignity of my family has no price tag.

I had not thought about that in years. Then I saw the current allegations made against the show.  Of course, these are just allegations at this point.  Whether the claims seem plausible would depend on how you view the show. If it’s a caring Dr. Phil about healing, then it seems inconceivable that would go on. If it’s a Dr. Phil who cares only about ratings and drama which many people believe, anything is possible because it’s not therapy, it’s a reality show and in show business, anything is possible.

I did reach out to the show( as well as others) years later to see if they had any interest in a straight-up show about BDD without the drama. No therapy.  Just people telling their stories. No response.

I for one am glad I said no back then. While most medical shows pander to nonsense to some degree, there are some out there who periodically, honestly try to bring light to serious issues while maintaining the dignity of the guest. I don’t see Dr. Phil as one of those shows. I see “reality therapy” as potentially more damaging in the long run to a guest than any good the show can do. I am glad I said no. Time for my psychiatrist’s appointment. Couch only. No cameras!

Brian Cuban (@bcuban) is The Addicted Lawyer. Brian is the author of the Amazon best-selling book, The Addicted Lawyer: Tales Of The Bar, Booze, Blow & Redemption (affiliate link). A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, he somehow made it through as an alcoholic then added cocaine to his résumé as a practicing attorney. He went into recovery April 8, 2007. He left the practice of law and now writes and speaks on recovery topics, not only for the legal profession, but on recovery in general. He can be reached at