Tensions and Confessions: Why I Can't Hate Dr. Phil

Jennifer Nussey
Communication Studies, Concordia University
February, 2005
 

Abstract


This thesis explores the tensions and contradictions between self-help, psychology and popular culture through a case study of daytime TV talk show host and self-styled “life coach” Phillip C. McGraw. “Dr. Phil,” as he is familiarly known, exists at the nexus of popular, self-help and therapeutic cultures. In addition to hosting a television show, Dr. Phil has published several self-help books and makes live appearances across North America as a motivational speaker.



Dr. Phil is the second highest rated daytime television talk show, right behind Oprah. Yet it combines two forms of media that suffer both academic and popular censure. How does Dr. Phil maintain popularity, authority and credibility? It is not only what Dr. Phil offers, but how he offers it that makes the show powerful. Exploring genre tensions and talk show confessions this thesis asks: What, if any, kind of therapy is Dr. Phil offering? The well-established form of the daytime talk show becomes a vehicle for Dr. Phil’s therapeutic discourse. This particular discourse melds self-help and behavioural therapy into the Dr. Phil brand of D.I.Y. therapy. In particular, he focuses on teaching people how to improve day-to-day communication with themselves and one another.



This thesis aims to better understand Phil McGraw’s communication tactics; to explore his show’s deployment of conflicting discourses and genres to create a new genre that tries to have a conscience; and to reinforce the importance of studying elements of pop culture that are often neglected because they are “feminine” or “touchy-feely.”
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We wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their financial support through theAid to Scholarly Journals Program.

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