Review of "Life Strategies"

By Phillip C. McGraw
Simon & Schuster Audio, 2000
Review by David M. Wolf, M.A. on Oct 29th 2004
Life Strategies

If you haven't seen "Dr. Phil" on television at least once, it wouldn't be too impertinent to ask, "Have you been out of the country for several years?" After saving Oprah from the Texas beef industry in a high-profile court action, Dr. Phil has become a television industry himself, with a TV show daily, television specials, books and CDs like this set, Life Strategies. His approach has a common touch. Although he is perceived as a Psychologist, his own self-description of his work is that he is a life strategist who aims to help people take appropriate action to change their lives toward satisfaction, fulfillment, and success.

This set sits the listener down with Dr. Phil in his usual mode: earnest but sometimes funny, combative about busting the nonsense, factual but not stopping to footnote what he says and what he prescribes, wise in a folksy sort of way, and persistent as a hungry dog with a bone.

 Dr. Phil likes to talk about dogs too. He starts with the premise, "There's a lot of dogs after them bones." By which he means: the real world is competitive. "Get real" is his essential message. Stop excusing, stop whining; start taking responsibility and what he called "accountability" and get into action. Dr. Phil must have been a Behaviorist before he found a bigger paradigm for his work in a results-directed outlook, because he often falls back to talking about "behaviors" and "doing, not talking," and similar ways of reminding us to get moving. Get off it! Get going! This is what Dr. Phil is all about.

Life Strategies is organized around what McGraw calls "The Ten Laws of Life."  5 CDs, 10 laws—you can see how the programs are laid down. And it's good listening full of excellent advice for people whose lives are "not working" in any area, whether in relationships, motivation, money matters, careers, raising children, whatever. The First Law is "Either you get it, or you don't" and its paired life strategy is, "Become one of those who gets it." But Dr. Phil isn't kidding here. Millions of Americans are not awake to themselves enough to "get" that life is real, actions have consequences, causes have effects, what goes around comes around, this real world is not rehearsal for some other.

With the other nine "laws", McGraw constructs an edifice for life strategies that he sets up like a strong house built on stone. It's going to be there no matter what storms come along to try to knock it down. It's not self-help psychology (which McGraw debunks somewhat in one of these sessions) but, as he says, a description of the ways in which the real world has been seen to exist by "winners" and successful, results-directed people for all time. Those who have steeped themselves in the esoteric and profound teachings of Eastern mystics and Western philosophers will recognize in each of Dr. Phil's "laws" some pithy summaries of those settled summary wisdoms. He's not making this stuff up—he's reporting it. Self-responsibility, we're all accountable for what our world becomes, the nature of reality versus mere perception, the differences between sensing and perceiving and interpreting—these are among the basis wisdoms he offers in more homespun form. And he punches it up with his unique personality too.

How should anyone critique all this?

There just isn't much wrong with it, when you consider the audience out there. It's accurate about what works, it squares with the best that psychology has figured out and philosophy teaches, and it's expressed clearly and plainly enough anybody can follow it. People won't fall asleep listening to it, and you can play it over and over without getting bored by Dr. Phil's delivery. "Folks, it just doesn't get any better than this…"


© 2004 David Wolf


David Wolf is the author of Philosophy That Works, a book about the practice of philosophy. His book page for orders (hardback & paperback) is ; readers can also see the first chapter there.


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