Many self-help authors have launched their careers via the beneficence of Oprah Winfrey, but only Phillip C. McGraw was able to parlay the talk show queen's admiration into a weekly friendly takeover of her show, near-guaranteed bestsellerdom, and, finally, his own talk show. He's gotten so much attention as "Dr. Phil" (a.k.a. "Tell It like It Is Phil") that he's moved from Texas to Hollywood and even guested with his fictional peer on NBC's Frasier.
McGraw delivers unapologetic, no-nonsense advice in a tough but colorful down-home twang -- hence his "Tell It like It Is" moniker. That old psychological bugaboo, denial, is chief among his enemies; and bluntness is his forte, whether he is exhorting someone to "get real" or demanding to know, "What were you thinkin'?" In short, "He's like your mama, without hair," as fellow psychologist Robert Butterworth told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
McGraw isn't unsympathetic, but he is realistic. As he told Barnes & Noble.com, "I am here to tell people how the world works, not how I think it should be or how you wish it would be, but how it is." McGraw met Oprah when he was hired to coach her in a suit by cattle ranchers for her alleged defamation of the beef industry. Oprah won the case, and it wasn't long before Dr. Phil was a regular feature on her show, challenging her guests in the same way he challenges his readers.
Though McGraw's style is quick and to the point, he does what many good personal therapists do: He asks difficult questions and encourages people to answer them with painful honesty. He also does what many therapists do not: He avoids emphasis on introspection about the circumstances and history that can contribute to a person's problems. "Whether the cards you've been dealt are good or bad, you're in charge of yourself now," he writes as part of "Life Law #2: You create your own experience" in his first, still-popular book, Life Strategies.
McGraw's sports-coach approach has also appealed to couples seeking help in revitalizing tired marriages or fixing troubled relationships. The year after publishing 1999's Life Strategies, McGraw released Relationship Rescue, offering a seven-step plan for imperiled unions (one key word: "renegotiate").
Most recently, McGraw devoted special attention to those who are simply "going through the motions," whether at work or at home. His Self Matters encourages readers to literally take an inventory of their lives, discover their "authentic selves," and redirect their courses accordingly. He harangues, he prods, and sometimes he makes people uncomfortable -- but darned if he doesn't get them to see things in a different way than they did before.
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He has been married to his wife, Robin, for 26 years. They have two sons, 23-year-old Jay and 16-year-old Jordan. McGraw has told Good Housekeeping that he doesn't feel pressure to have a perfect marriage because of his public image. But, he adds, "My wife is an amazing woman. We have a great marriage because she won't have it any other way."
After getting his doctorate, McGraw went into private practice; but "when it came to the point that I really had to admit I didn't like what I was doing, that was a gut check because I was making an awful lot of money doing it," he told CNN in 2001. So he quit the practice in 1989 and co-founded Courtroom Sciences, Inc., a legal consultancy that conducts mock trials, behavioral analysis, jury selection, and mediation.
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