L

OS ANGELES — For addiction treatment centers, an appearance and positive mention on the popular daytime talk show “Dr. Phil” is marketing gold. Phone lines light up, emails pour in, and beds fill up.

“Dr. Phil mentioning a facility has an impact the same as Oprah saying, ‘Hey, read this book,’” said Greg Horvath, who produced a documentary, “The Business of Recovery,” that is critical of the treatment industry. “You go into the stratosphere.”

A STAT/Boston Globe investigation shows how some carefully placed promotions are also a financial opportunity for a new business venture involving the show’s host, Phillip McGraw, and his son, Jay.

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An addiction recovery program the McGraws launched this year comes with an enticing offer: Buy their self-help video product and you could land a valuable spot on the top-rated “Dr. Phil” show.

But what’s good for the treatment centers and for the McGraws’ new venture might not always be good for viewers. One Florida facility that Phillip McGraw endorsed on his show as one of the best in the nation has a troubled owner and has had scores of teens go missing in the past two years, according to court documents and police reports.

The “Dr. Phil” show said in a statement that two of the more than 20 treatment centers using the addiction recovery program have been mentioned on the show this year and that there have been no promises to facilities buying the new product that they will appear on the program. The statement said none of the centers is listed in the “resource directory” on the show website.

“Any suggestion that appearances on Dr. Phil’s show are linked to the purchase or use of this program is false,” the statement said.

Dr. Phil show refer Part 2

The McGraws’ addiction recovery program is a series of virtual reality scenarios starring Dr. Phil. Called “Dr. Phil’s Path to Recovery,” it has been offered to treatment centers at monthly rates ranging from $3,500 to $7,000.

In addition to appearing on “Dr. Phil,” centers that buy the product have been featured on “The Doctors,” a program owned by the production company founded by McGraw and his son.

The appearances by operators buying into the new product is not an accident, said Jim Shriner, the vice president of sales for Path to Recovery, according to one potential customer who spoke with him and shared details of the conversation. Shriner didn’t comment when contacted by a reporter.

Participating treatment centers, Shriner said to the customer, are used by “Dr. Phil” and “The Doctors” as a “go-to resource” for drug and alcohol rehab. That means that when either show does an episode on addiction, participating operators could get a call asking them to fly out to Los Angeles and sponsor a guest’s treatment — unbeatable advertising.

“Our job is to get your phones to ring, and the admissions hopefully follow,” Shriner told the customer. He also boasted that viewers of the “Dr. Phil” and “The Doctors” programs are an attractive demographic: older, high-income people who make treatment decisions for family members and “not the addict calling because I told my mom I’d do it.”

“Our job is to get your phones to ring, and the admissions hopefully follow.”

Path to Recovery sales representative

At least four treatment centers using the virtual reality product have already appeared on the shows, Shriner said, according to the customer. In October, the Path to Recovery website promoted the appearance of the operators of two treatment centers in Texas and California on an upcoming episode of “The Doctors” to share a “powerful story” featuring the virtual reality product.

While the “Dr. Phil” show website doesn’t list Path to Recovery customers, it contains a prominent link at the top of the page to the Path to Recovery website; that site features participating treatment centers. The website of “The Doctors” similarly links to Path to Recovery.

The “Dr. Phil” show said the Path to Recovery program has received “positive early feedback,” but added that it is a completely separate company from that which produces “Dr. Phil.”

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In the Path to Recovery program, users don virtual reality goggles and are placed in scenarios with Dr. Phil. In one, McGraw sits at a bar, arms folded across his chest, counseling his visitor on how to avoid the triggers of an evening out when alcohol is present. In another scene, he reclines in jeans on the backyard patio of his sprawling estate, sparkling pool and fuschia flowers behind him and a wide blue sky above, and shares coping strategies.

“You’ll leave these sessions feeling as though you just had an eye-opening and insightful conversation about your life with Dr. Phil,” the Path to Recovery website promises. The product is described as “the culmination of more than four decades of experience Dr. Phil has working in the mental health profession and addiction recovery.”

In the conversation with the potential customer, Shriner acknowledged that evidence of the program’s effectiveness was anecdotal. A disclaimer on the program’s website cautions it is “solely for general informational purposes” and is “not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any medical, health, mental, or psychological problem or condition.”

The marketing benefits are more certain.

Shriner, in trying to convince a potential customer to buy the program, said it was a “very attractive” way for small and medium-sized facilities to gain a national advertising presence at a reasonable price.

One facility that has used the Path to Recovery Program is Inspirations for Youth and Families, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., treatment center for teenagers that is owned by Christopher Walsh and Karen Corcoran Walsh. Corcoran Walsh is also listed on state licensing records as the owner of another Fort Lauderdale treatment center called The Cove Center for Recovery. Walsh and Corcoran Walsh had been on the “Dr. Phil” show in the past, and Corcoran Walsh was on the set the day McGraw unveiled Path to Recovery to his national audience in March.

“We think outside the box in designing what addicts need,” McGraw told his studio audience. “What you need is something that pops out of the noise, something that rises above the noise. Like a distinctive voice. And that voice, in this case, is me.”

“What you need is something that pops out of the noise … Like a distinctive voice. And that voice, in this case, is me.”

Phillip McGraw

On that program, McGraw introduced Corcoran Walsh by saying she ran “the nation’s leading family addiction treatment and dual-diagnosis center.” (Dual diagnosis refers to people with both a substance abuse disorder and mental illness.)

Teens sent to Inspirations routinely run away from the facility and find themselves in dangerous situations, according to police documents and parents of those treated there.

“It seems to be an ongoing problem in that particular facility,” said Steven Sarduy, managing director at Indemnity Security & Investigations Inc., who worked as a private detective to recover two girls who vanished from the facility in 2016 and 2017. “Obviously, there’s a gap somewhere, a loophole somewhere in the system, where they’re just leaving.”

In the past two years, Inspirations staff members have made about 180 reports to police about children in their care going missing, according to police records. Sometimes the teenagers, who range in age from 13 to 17, were only gone for hours — but in other cases they wandered Fort Lauderdale for days, or left the state entirely.

One girl wound up trading sex for drugs; some of the teens used drugs or got intoxicated; at least six were arrested, and at least two turned up at the hospital, according to police reports. One group, who fled the facility together, robbed a homeless man, a police report said.

“They touted this, ‘We were on Dr. Phil’ — they use that as, ‘We must be a great facility because we were on Dr. Phil.’ Well, that has nothing to do with how the facility is run,” said Jill Walters, of South Carolina, whose 17-year-old son ran away from Inspirations in March 2016, walked to Miami, and spent several days on the street. “You entrust your child to the care of these people, and something like this happens.”

A check of court records also reveals a number of incidents involving the center’s co-owner, Christopher Walsh, including a dispute with the Boca Raton Resort and Club, which he alleged in a 2015 lawsuit served him an excessive amount of alcohol even though employees knew or should have known he was a “habitual drunkard.” The case was settled.

The Walshes did not return several telephone messages left with facility staff, as well as emails seeking comment.

The “Dr. Phil” show, in its statement, said the status of treatment centers it interacts with “is of course ever changing” and that “no treatment center in business for any period of time has a spotless complaint record.” The show said it relies on state licensing boards to “qualify both practitioners and facilities.”

State records in Florida indicate Inspirations is currently licensed.

Shriner said that to be eligible to participate in the Path to Recovery program, a treatment center has to be accredited and pass a stringent legal review. He told the potential customer that protecting the reputation and brand of the “Dr. Phil” show was important in vetting facilities using the virtual reality program.

Inspirations in July helped promote the McGraws’ virtual reality product, filming one of its teen patients giving a testimonial, which was then posted to the Path to Recovery website.

“I never found anything that was as helpful as the Dr. Phil recovery program,” said the 17-year-old in the video, which included her full name, her birthday, and where she was from. She had spent more than 500 days of her life in treatment, she said, but she was finally feeling better. “I know that if I focus enough, that I can pretty much achieve anything I want to, within reason.”

The teen, whom STAT and the Globe are not identifying because she was a juvenile at the time, said in a recent interview that she found some of the tips from Dr. Phil useful, and that the virtual reality approach was a welcome relief from group counseling sessions.

Nonetheless, only days after filming the testimonial, the teen turned 18 and checked herself out of Inspirations. She relapsed within a few days, which is not uncommon for someone struggling with addiction. She said she is now sober thanks to an outpatient program near her home.

After the teen was interviewed by a reporter, her video testimonial was removed from the Inspirations and Path to Recovery websites. A staffer who answered the phone at Inspirations said the facility no longer uses the virtual reality program.

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  • i have aproblem will you help cause am very tried, also my family need heip. we dont love any more and i a adddict and hiding this but i feel you can help me please also am heavenly in the chruch and faith but i have demon inside of me, if you care help me

  • Hello William and Sue,
    So relieved to read that this message is getting to many others who have a real need for healing, in order to continue to live with a new perspective about this topic.

    It is beyond the time that we have this dialogue with others, and especially for those who are willing to work with a qualified professional health care practitioner.

    I am grateful for those of us who have been on the other side of the treatment room as therapists who are committed to helping our patients, and responsible individuals who have been trained for years so that we know how to treat our patients without doing any harm to them or anyone, including ourselves.

    Keep the good work going,
    Catherine

    • Thank you, Catherine. “…therapists who are committed to helping our patients,. . . responsible individuals who have been trained for years so that we know how to treat our patients without doing any harm to them or anyone, including ourselves.”. Well said, and so true. And yes, this is a much-needed discussion in the face of so much corruption.

  • “Dr.” Phil is a scam artist who preys on people desperate for attention and uses them for ratings. If you read the fine print of the Non-Disclosure Agreement all the guests sign, you would run screaming. They manipulate these poor people – I would love to hear from people 6-12months after their appearance without fear of litigation.

  • I think the guy that won survivor is just lacking attention after the attention he got before. Then there always has to be those ppl that can’t stand when ppl work hard to be successful and make it. Dr. Phil on screen shows viewers how a man should treat his wife, his family and others. He doesn’t hide his faith for Hollyweird either. He makes ppl think between what’s acceptable and what’s not. Just those things alone help ppl think about what they need to work on in their own lives. What other shows on tv do that?

  • Dr. Phil is an outstanding man who is helping millions of families on TV and families learning. He has the best values a person could have. I only wish we had more men like that.

  • I have been a frequent guest-expert on Phil’s show numerous times over several years and more specifically, I have been intimately involved in specific episodes where the guests we were serving, had issues related to addiction. In all of the years I have been involved, not only have I NEVER seen any misconduct with regards to the accusations I see being thrown around, I have personally witnessed the exact opposite. The lengths I was required to go to to insure the guest’s safety was more than I have ever experienced in any other television experience I have had. In 25+ years of doing this, I have worked with families on essentially every daytime show in the U.S. as well as three of my own primetime TV shows.
    I have not seen any production staff go to the lengths Phil’s people do, to restrict a guest’s access to whatever their addictions are. I’ve seen them strip the hotel mini-bars of alcohol, I’ve seen them search guest bags to be certain they didn’t bring in anything. I once witnessed a guest ask a Dr Phil intern for some Motrin and the guest was told by the intern they could not hand out any medications.
    I have spent time with Phil on camera and off. I have spent time with Phil in his office and in his home. It has been my personal experience that he has always been vigilant about guest protection; dare I say he set the standard that other shows should follow.
    That has been my personal experience as someone closer than most to these types of scenarios.
    Troy Dunn
    “The Locator”

  • The particular part of the investigation here is one that I wish to share/remind individuals of the facilities that pay for the Video program: this is the exact same intentionally misleading aspect that trump pulled nation-wide with his “program with DT, learn how to invest in real estate, and make $$$$$$, with DT appearing at _______fill in the state and venue, charging the individuals a lot of money. The people I know who did this, were appalled that they were there, DT was NOT; he had the entire program on video. Of course this meant he could do all the talking, without the bother of q&a from the attendees. McGraw is doing the exact same scheme, it reads this way for me. He is the last psychologist I would ever think to go to for help; I am a psychologist. I know how to choose a healer from a huckster!

    • Great comment, Catherine. I’m a retired psychologist and have long found him to be unethical and some of his behaviours to be at least bordering on criminal. No wonder he chose to not keep his license to practice current: It would be revoked by any ethical licensing board. That T.V. continues to promote this greasy dude is also criminal and makes the producers guilty of at least being accomplices to murder if any “guest” dies from McGraw’s BS.

    • That’s scary. You’re suppose to have it all together and figured out. Why would you be looking for a psychologist?

    • Thank you Catherine and William. I suspect some other commenters here have their own agendas but if they don’t they lack the training and standards with which to judge Phillip McGraw. I’ve always found the man dangerous to true mental health. Oprah made him who he is today – wealthy and in a position to use his wealth and power to amass more of the same for himself and his son(s.) Con artist extraordinaire!

      Not unlike the Presidunce, he will have his day of reckoning. We might all work toward that end in whatever ways we are able. Stay strong in 2018.

    • Thank you, Sue. Glad to see an ethical health care professional sees McGraw for what he is: A dangerous flimflam man. I hope 2018 is good to you. Take care.

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