Sunday, April 12, 2009

Dr. Drew and Dr. Phil: Celebrity Mental Health Demeans the Profession

Stigma regarding mental health, and receiving appropriate treatment for mental illness, is still so strong that anything that promotes or encourages people to seek help is laudable. However, what Dr. Drew and Dr. Phil are up to is more about their celebrity status and self-aggrandizement than anything else. When Dr. Phil visits Britney Spears and holds a press conference afterwards it is not about Britney's mental health status but rather Dr. Phil's celebrity status. For Dr. Phil to say anything about his interaction with Britney at all was a violation of her right to privacy.

Dr. Drew Pinsky is a board certified by the American Academy of Internal Medicine and the American Society of Addiction Medicine. Dr. Pinsky does not have credentialing as a psychiatrist or psychologist. But since the publication of his test for narcissism, and subsequent book, he has been speaking on public media on everything from narcissism among celebrities and the public at large, to substance abuse, sexual issues, and anything anyone else cares to ask about general mental health issues.

Dr. Pinsky is also a busy man as shown by the fact that he is Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the Keck School of Medicine at the University Of Southern California Medical Director for the Department of Chemical Dependency Services at in Pasadena California, staff member at Huntington Memorial Hospital and a private practitioner. In addition, Dr. Pinsky, or "Dr. Drew" as he is called, has a show business career in which he is the co-host of the nationally syndicated radio talk show, love line which he has hosted since 1984. On television, he produces and hosts the VH1Show Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew and the MTV show Sex ….With Mom and Dad In 2009 a spin-off of Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew premiered named Sober House. It's hard to say all these things, let alone contemplating doing all of them.

Doctors doing celebrity reality shows is a far different from Dr. Mehmet Oz coming on the Oprah Winfrey show and presenting medical information and advice in a professional manner. Dr. Oz's professional credentials are of the highest caliber. Dr. Oz is vice-chair and professor of surgery at Columbia University. He directs the Cardiovascular Institute and Complementary Medicine Program at NewYork–Presbyterian Hospital.

Dr. Pinsky on the other hand, goes in front of the media and, according to CBS news, stated about Britney Spears, "This young lady — she is dying in front of our eyes. She needs physician care regularly for a sustained period of time. If I were to treat her, I'd put her in 4-6 weeks of an intensive program in a psychiatric hospital and a year of a residential program very much like what Lindsay Lohan did." While Dr. Pinsky may have been concerned about Britney Spears, he was creating valuable airtime for his celebrity status.

Dr. Pinsky gained notoriety when he said in an interview in Playboy, "Take a guy like Tom Cruise. Why would somebody be drawn into a cultish kind of environment like Scientology? To me, that's a function of a very deep emptiness and suggests serious neglect in childhood — maybe some abuse, but mostly neglect." For Dr. Pinsky to speculate on Tom Cruise's mental status and psychological functioning without interviewing him was unprofessional. Further, to do so in Playboy magazine, amid all the pictures of naked ladies, is evidence of less than optimal judgment and a need for celebrity status. In the end, Dr. Pinsky apologized to Tom Cruise's lawyer, but not to Tom Cruise.

Dr. Pinsky writes extensively about how we are in the age of narcissism. Isn't it possible that his behavior and that of Dr. Phil's is a symptom of that narcissism?

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