Did Dr. Phil practice psychology without a license? That's the basis of a new complaint filed against the television personality, who has already faced an onslaught of criticism since visiting Britney Spears at Los Angeles' Cedars-Sinai Medical Center after she was admitted against her will earlier this month.
According to a complaint filed with the California Board of Psychology, Dr. Phil McGraw is also accused of violating the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. The complaint alleges Dr. Phil practiced clinical psychology without a license and further violated doctor-patient privilege by discussing the pop star's case with the media.
Though the California Board of Psychology is compelled to investigate all complaints, this one might not have much ground. According to state regulators, McGraw would have had to practice psychology in the legal sense, which is clearly defined in Section 2903 of the California Business and Professions Code: "The practice of psychology is defined as rendering or offering to render for a fee ... any psychological service involving the application of psychological principles, methods and procedures ... [such as] the methods and procedures of interviewing, counseling, psychotherapy, behavior modification and hypnosis."
McGraw's account of his visit with Spears, at the behest of her parents, doesn't address whether he did anything more than he usually does on his show — which is to try to get people to "get real." When McGraw's TV show, "Dr. Phil," started airing in 2002, the California Board of Psychology convened a panel to decide if he was acting as a clinical psychologist and in need of a license. They determined that what he was "practicing" was entertainment, not psychology, and passed on regulating him.
The Spears family later criticized McGraw , not for his methods during the visit, but for his behavior afterward — for making public statements, as he had been invited under the guise of what the family's rep called a "cloak of trust." Since he has no license in California, state officials told MTV News that they have no jurisdiction if they find that disciplinary action is warranted, which would again involve convening a panel to determine if he in fact violated anything. One option, a rep from the Board said, would be to refer the case to a local district attorney, "and it's up to them if they do anything." Practicing psychology without a license is a felony in California.
McGraw isn't currently licensed to practice psychology in his home state of Texas, either. After a former therapy client filed a complaint against him, claiming their relationship was inappropriate, the Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists imposed disciplinary sanctions. Soon after he was officially reprimanded, McGraw closed his private practice.
That might not be all he's closing, if the complainant gets their way. Scribbled on the back of the complaint is a mention that a petition is being circulated to remove McGraw's show from the air. A rep for Dr. Phil's show had no comment on the complaint or the petition when reached by MTV News.