First, let’s dispense with a mea culpa regarding Dr. Phil. During his first couple of seasons, I watched religiously, and, embarrassing as this admission is, I felt I was getting something important from watching him. After some time, though, I realized I needed to spend that crucial hour from 5:00 pm to 6:00 pm making dinner and eating with my family, and then, coincidentally and serendipitously, Dr. Phil turned more sensationalistic, at least to my perception, making it easier for me to swear him off. Also, my husband has always insisted his guests are actors, which kind of ruins the show. Now, I very rarely see Dr. Phil. So much for the confession.
Last week, I switched on the TV around 5:15, and there was Jinda talking to Dr. Phil. Jinda had become obsessed with her friend Traci, who had broken off their friendship. Jinda had been texting such things as, “I deserve you” and “I will love you the right way” and “I need you, baby.” Jinda described herself, merely, as “clingy” and “needy.”
My ears perked up, I recognized the symptoms, and I waited to see if Dr. Phil would identify the problem. He never used the word “borderline,” but he did tell Jinda about personality disorders and read off symptoms to her that sound like the histrionic and borderline varieties. The major issues were boundaries and drama–no awareness of the former and an abundance of the latter. On the order of 50 text messages a day.
A couple of things interest me. One is that Dr. Phil doesn’t refer to personality disorders very often, even though many guests, in my memory, displayed the symptoms. About 2% of the population suffers from BPD, making up about 10% of clients in outpatient settings, so you’d think he’d mention it more often.
Second is the lack of kindness in online comments. By the end of the show, Dr. Phil was very understanding with Jinda, telling her that her problems weren’t her fault. In contrast, many commenters on the Dr. Phil website were vitriolic. It’s as though, in 2013, people still don’t get what mental illness is.
I don’t minimize, of course, Traci’s problem with being stalked and harassed. I’m just saying that people do these things because they can’t help it. They need diagnoses, treatment, and sometimes even restraining orders, but not name-calling and contempt.