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   A Second Opinion

        Phil McGraw's Self Matters

   People often feel they are looking for an answer to a question they cannot quite formulate, and Self Matters by Phil McGraw offers a starting point.

   He has half a good idea. The other half, the half that gets you over the goal line, is missing. It is sacrificed to give the book the widest possible appeal.

   The book's missing element is expressed in the first chapter. Phil says, Don't panic. Changing your life doesn't necessarily involve changing where you live, who you live with, your occupation, or how you spend your time.

   That is the age-old problem of psychological advice which promises you can have everything now in your life and perfect adjustment (or happiness) as well. The truth is you cannot.

   You have to undo the lies of your life to get to your authentic self. When you do that, you will not be surrounded by the negative things and negative people dragging you back to your former life.

   The climax of Phil McGraw's book involves a woman named Rhonda. Rhonda "had been beaten, raped, and sexually exploited by her biological father." According to Phil she achieved catharsis and found peace by reading an angry letter on her dead father's grave, screaming out her rage, and crying.

   The example is a cheat.

   Real life examples are more like that of Oprah Winfrey, whose uncle raped her and whose father pretended he didn't really understand what happened. As an adult Oprah ended up in her father's house one day, making eggs for the man who raped her.

   The answer to Rhonda and Oprah's problem is not found in Self Matters. It is suggested by Robert Akeret in his Tales From A Traveling Couch. Akeret was a psychotherapist who retired after 35 years in practice. One question nagged him. What ever became of my most memorable patients? How did their lives turn out?


   To answer the question, he tracked down six of them. The most successful former patient, a man named Seth, had a mother who Akeret says "was one of the most monstrous parents I had ever heard described to me." What was the key to Seth's success? Total escape from that parent.

   Another patient, a woman named Naomi, was the child of first-generation immigrant Ashkenazi Jews living in the Bronx. Her parents were horrible. Improbably Naomi taught herself Spanish, changed her name and identity, and traveled the world for years as a featured dancer with the Ballet Nacional de Espana. As Isabella Cortez, she lived with her husband in a 16 room mansion in Seville.

   But something drew her back to New York, and parental oppression once again caused her to assume the identity her parents fashioned for her. Because of her mother's influence, her husband became a drunk and divorced her. Only after the death of both parents could she find a measure of peace. She hadn't fully learned the lesson of her escape.

   Phil McGraw is a controversial figure. His first wife, Debbie Higgins McCall, used to maintain a website at On that site she sold items which alluded to her ex as a "Philanderer." She capitalized the P in philanderer for a reason.

   From Self Matters:

   --"Remember that the world has an agenda for you and your authenticity is not anywhere on that agenda."

   --"What matters is that you challenge and rewrite your personal truth and live a life that lets you be who you really are."

   --"I started this process by getting you to look at your past life, because I believe that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. That being true, the links in the chain of your history predict your future."

   Phil McGraw References:
 --"The 8-Minute Cure," by Michael Ventura, Psychotherapy
    Networker, Jul/Aug 2005.

   --"Who's Your Daddy?" by Heather Havrilesky, Salon, Nov 24 2003.

   --The Making of Doctor Phil, by Sophia Dembling and Lisa
     Gutierrez, Wiley, 2003.


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