“Dr. Phil” is a one hour program that airs daily on day time television. This show has been an innovator of the “talk show genre” by employing a real psychologist as its host. Dr. Phil McGraw spends that hour addressing and advising individuals who are going through crisis. Sometimes those problems are everyday issues, such as getting along with in-laws or dealing with a problem child. Other times more complex issues are explored, such as counseling the victim of a heinous crime or giving insight into high profile media stories. “Dr. Phil” presents a very clinical approach to the portrayal of gender on their television show. Upmost care is taken to insure that each individual who appears on the show is represented accurately and fairly. I believe that by looking at the structure of the “Dr. Phil” show we can gain a better understanding of how to insure that gender is portrayed in an unbiased manner. Throughout this analysis I will take a look at the counseling techniques of Dr. Phil and how the show structure and casting process helps insures gender equality.
The “Dr. Phil” program is meant to appeal to the masses and is not geared towards one age group, gender, or culture. Each show discusses a different topic that is meant to appeal to different groups ("About dr. phil," 2012). The show is meant to be beneficial to anyone who wants to learn more about living a more fulfilled life.
Gender Roles in Communication
Few people would dispute that men and woman communicate in different way, and it is often apparent in how the interviewee’s respond to the doctor’s queries. Science shows that there are three main styles in regards to gender roles in communication. Both genders seem to prefer a sharing and expressive style of communication (Kirtley & Weaver, 1999).
Females have a more socially oriented style of communicating while males tend to be more direct with results in mind (Kirtley & Weaver, 1999). Despite these differences, research shows that sex differences may be only a small part in how we chose our communication style. Gender role self-perception, not biological sex, has a greater influence on how we communicate (Kirtley & Weaver, 1999).
It is easy to just give up and say that we will never understand each other. The popular analogy, Men are from Mars and women are from Venus, seems to fit into this idea. However it must be said that we are more alike than different. Dr. Phil seems to realize this and uses these observations of communication techniques to adjust his counseling style to fit different individuals. The basic principles of effective interpersonal communication work for both sexes.
A Communication climate refers to the tone of the relationship between the interviewer and the interviewee ("Creating an effective," 2011). This can be judged with both verbal and non-verbal communication techniques. How people feel about each other effects the communication climate.
The “Dr. Phil” tries to create a positive climate where people feel as if they are valued and appreciated no matter their sex ("Creating an effective," 2011). This climate allows for an open, honest relationship. Being willing to both speak and listen, ads to the positivity. Both parties feel comfortable around each other and are able to relate feedback without fear. The doctor tries to recognize that each person is worthwhile, with something to contribute to the interview ("Creating an effective," 2011). Men and women are given equal opportunity to tell their story without bias. Dr. Phil reserves judgment until he has heard each side of a story. Once he does offer his input, he tries to give advice based only on what he has heard, scientific knowledge, and knowledge from his psychology career. He doesn’t employee stereotypes or hear say as legitimate information.
Learning empathy can be the best tool for a positive communication climate. Empathy is the ability to understand how others feel ("Creating an effective," 2011). In order to practice empathy remember to attend to what is said. Do not use objectivity or distance. Recognize verbal cues about how others are feeling and the content/feeling of the message. And most importantly let others know that you understand how they feel. Proper communication is about the needs of those around us.
This show seems to go to great lengths to avoid stereotyping genders. They continuously show both men and women in different roles. The exploration of gender roles within a family unit is one of the most prevalent subjects addressed throughout the “Doctor Phil” series. The message of the show is often about finding a balance in terms of gender. For example one episode may have a very passive woman suffering from an abusive relationship. In this case the theme of the show would be to counsel the woman to help her become more assertive with her life. In another episode, I saw were gender stereotypes were reversed. The woman in the relationship was very aggressive while her husband was very passive. This show is about exploring all facets of gender traits. The diversity presented throughout each episode is very unbiased and helps open the viewer’s mind to different viewpoints.
Dr. Phil uses Adlerian Therapy to avoid being unbiased in his depiction of gender. This form of therapy stresses a positive view of human nature with the idea that we are in control of our own fate and not a victim to it. Alderian Therapy determines what makes people unique and correct mistaken assumptions. The therapist uses different techniques that help the person to identify their needs. Every person is unique; and each technique must also fit that particular person. The process intervention usually involves life-style analysis. Dr. Phil tries to understand the individual’s life-style, and how it is effecting their current situations. His role is to present values that the individual may wish to use in their own life. It is the individual’s responsibility to determine their goals, while Dr. Phil suggests how they can accomplish them. The individual must make a conscience decision to control their own fate.
Consultants are often brought on the show to give specialized insight into the cases presented. This also insures unbiased opinions. One some occasions in which Dr. Phil has found it difficult to connect with female interviewees I have even seen him bring his own wife on stage to gain her viewpoint on the life of an everyday woman. Egan states, “McGraw himself plays the central role in the conversion narrative—he listens, diagnoses, prescribes, cures, and validates. Moreover, he oversees production. He “provides imperative guidelines for behavior, inhibiting impulses and producing structure and stability, all with the promise of protection from an omnipotent authority.” (Egan, 2005).
How Do These Views Affect the Audience
In my opinion, the “Dr. Phil” show is an outstanding example of the direction the media should go in regards to presenting an unbiased perception of gender. This mass exposure to diversity and alternative gender roles enlightens the viewing audience and exposes them to situations they might not otherwise be aware of. The show can be used as a platform to address personal and social issues. Combating gender stereotypes is only a small part of the great social injustices presented in the series. This says that society as a whole is looking for ways to change their misguided views and are welcoming this show as a way of enlightenment. The Alliance for Women in Media, has honored Dr. Phil four times ("About dr. phil," 2012). By never objectifying women and treating them with respect, the show puts out a positive message from women.
Views of Sexuality
The show tries to avoid putting out a heteronormative perception by showing a variety of life styles and sexual orientations. Psychologically the show is careful not to describe anything as “normal” or “abnormal” (Egan, 2005). The show instead decides to explore these topics and leave the viewer to ultimately decide what they consider normal under guidance of the information outlined in the show. Although there are many theories, labeling theory seems to be especially accurate in the understanding of deviancy. Labeling theory works to combine different theoretical perspectives, like conflict theory and symbolic interactionism (Ferris & Stein, 2011). This theories goal is not to label one person as deviant or not, it states that deviance is relative.
Sexual messages are engrained within the media around us on a daily basis. This topic has been subject to countless studies, and the results are astounding. The results show that adolescent exposure to sexual content within the media has a direct impact on their cognitive understanding of sexual activity. By taking a look at these studies one can gain a better understanding of how the media affects gender trends that our culture may experience as a result of this media content. The “Dr. Phil” show offers a chance for an open dialogue about this subject and attempts to project a positive message about the acceptance and understanding of sexuality.
Sexuality is usually discussed as a quality of identity. On his webpage Dr. Phil states, “Homosexuality is not a learned behavior. A sexual orientation is inherited; you are wired that way.” ("About dr. phil," 2012). In regards to discussing sexuality he states, “You deal with it by having an open, intelligent dialogue about it. A dialogue is an ongoing conversation.” ("About dr. phil," 2012). This ongoing conversation is frequently brought up through the course of the show.
In summary, the “Dr. Phil” show represents a positive media message in regards to the “right” way to present complex issues to the public. Their unbiased perspective on gender prevents negative stereotypes and allows for both sexes to express their thoughts and concerns. Dr. Phil’s counseling techniques examine each person as an individual and analyzes them based on their individual traits. By presenting a wide range of stories throughout the series, diversity is prevalent and illustrates a wide range of views. Through the Dr. Phil show, personal and social issues are brought to the masses.
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