Jan 14 2008

Dr. Phil, ethics, dual relationships and confidentiality: It’s a hollywood thing

Published by at 1:22 am under Counseling & Psychotherapy,Ethics

Dr. Phil seems to be treading on ethical “thin ice.” The news recently described how a famous person’s family felt betrayed after asking him for help…

Without telling the whole story, it seems Dr. Phil was asked for help by a family. He went to the hospital and spoke to the principal people involved, then gave a press release about his opinions.

We don’t know, but the impression is that the family did not expect Dr. Phil to tell the world about the mental health challenges facing their loved one.

From Dr. Phil, we hear that he didn’t do anything wrong, but has changed his plans to dedicate a whole television show to the intimate details of this situation.

How could anyone think it would be helpful to dedicate a television show to someone’s vulnerabilities?

Even the most hungry for hollywood gossip person might agree that this famous person and their family could benefit from some privacy right now.
It’s not easy for any of us to accept help, especially when so many things are going wrong. To have all of your problems exposed in the media, we can assume, could be pretty devastating.

To me, the principal person in this situation has endured a public shaming process that is really unacceptable. Dr. Phil seemed to get caught up in this process too.

So, it was probably a mistake for this family to assume Dr. Phil would be the correct mental health professional to help.

The family wanted Dr. Phil to play the role of a psychologist, not a talk show host doing research for a show.

This is called a dual relationship and the psychologist’s code of ethics has guidelines which discourage any dual or multiple relationships between a psychologist and their clients.

Dr. Phil should not play the role of psychologist and talk show host at the same time. If he does, he risks exploiting families and doing harm.

We don’t have all the details, nor do we have a right to know all the details. Maybe, there are some extenuating circumstances that would help explain what happened.

Ethically, it seems likely that it would not be a good idea for any mental health practitioner to try to help someone, while planning a television show about that person’s problems to be displayed for the world to see.

Other ethical standards at work here are rights to privacy and confidentiality, exploitation of client, standards of care for people in emergency situations, multiple relationships between mental health person, client, family, and others, clinical standards of care (what services does the client need) and probably others I am not even thinking of right now.

You can see where I stand on this, give this person some privacy.

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