Dear Dr. Phil,
When your show released a promo of an interview you conducted with former actress Shelley Duval, I immediately knew that this was a bad idea. After watching the interview, I can tell you that not only was it a bad idea, but you crossed the fine line between a mental health practitioner, and an entertainer. Conducting an interview with a mentally ill woman who needs serious help is not helpful onscreen, it is exploitation, and all you were able to accomplish was to feed the stigma that people who suffer from mental illness are 'crazy' and absolutely insane.
Duval is best known for her role as Wendy Torrance in Stanley Kubrick's 1980 adaptation of Stephen Kings' The Shining, notably for being the brunt of Kubrick's extreme tactics to to get the best performance out of her. She later went on to star alongside Robin Williams in Popeye later that year. Her final film was Manna From Heaven in 2002, and since then has been living in Blanco, TX.
In your clip, Duval describes being plagued with delusions, including the belief that Robin Williams is not dead but rather just shapeshifting, fear of a whirring disk in her leg, and the belief that a sheriff wants her dead. These are serious delusions that need serious help. Her acceptance to the fact that she needs help is important and an already terrifying act, and your using of her need to elicit ratings is disturbing to me. The questions you asked were designed to get provocative and shocking responses from Duval, revealing more and more of her delusions. These are questions that mental health practitioners need to ask in order to properly assess the extent of an illness and how to conduct treatment, but that was not your purpose.
There is a specific code of ethics that anyone who works in the mental health field is expected to uphold; the greatest of which is confidentially and avoiding exploitation for one's own gain. But this is the stuff that makes the tabloids sell, tales of once-famous people whose lives have been ruined by drugs or illness, and it's the stuff that makes people tune into reality TV, into shows like yours. I've never been a big fan of the mental health community on TV as entertainment, but after viewing your interview, I have solidified that stance. Your primary goal as a mental health practitioner should have been the well being of Duval, of her dignity while making the proper arrangements to get her the proper care that she needs.
Dr. Phil, the reason this bothers me so much is because I am a member of the mental health community. I have gone to mental health practitioners and I trusted them, their motivations, and their guidance, which is not always easy to do. I currently see two LPCs (one for a year and one for the first time today), and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that neither of them would ever exploit me or any of their other patients, because their goals are not exposure, but to help me. It's my hope that someone similar to me doesn't watch this and think why would I want to get help when I will be paraded around like that?, because that would make this interview all the more disturbing.
I get that although you are a practitioner, your primary job now is as an entertainer. Your job is to get people onto your show to boost ratings, and I always wonder whether or not you're actually able to help out the majority of people who come on. When you decided to enter the foray of mental health, it was because of a desire to help people who are hurting and to help restore their health and their lives with utmost dignity, respect, and confidentiality. I don't think that is your motivation, but if you believe it still is, take a look in the mirror. Do you really think you're upholding that?
You're the only person who can answer that question. Hopefully this stunt is able to open your eyes and make you reevaluate what you're really doing for the people you have on your show.
One of the 450 Million Members of the Mental Health Community