Dr. Phil and mandatory reporting

Many times on his show, Dr. Phil has emphatically made the the point that as a psychologist (or whatever his exact credential is), he is a mandatory reporter when made aware of child abuse. I’ve seen shows where he holds this over the heads of guests by saying that he has to report them if they don’t go through with his plan of correction, or that he considered just reporting them but instead decided to help them.

Is this how “mandatory reporting” works? Can a person in that position decide to intervene in the abuse and not report it to authorities? I thought the “mandatory” part meant you had to report it once you were aware of it.

No, no, and your interpretation is correct. Dr. Phil is a hack.

But he was great on The Larry Sanders Show!

He has to report regardless, but there is a huge difference between

“these people admit to beating their children and locking them in confined areas with no food or water for long periods of time and they don’t think there’s anything wrong with it and intend to continue doing it”


“these people admit to beating their children and locking them in confined areas with no food or water for long periods of time BUT I’m presently performing a very public and complete theraputic overhaul of the whole family and will continue to evaluate their progress and attitudes, and will let you know my opinions at the end of the intervention”

The first means DSS is very likely to come over and at least talk to the parents and kids, the second means they now have a note in a file somewhere, and they won’t get involved until the media hoopla is over, if then, depending on the final report.

And depending on what the social worker assigned to the case report thinks is appropriate. Once you report, it’s out of your hands, although good social workers will work with you, and custodial action is generally a route of last resort, a handful of scary media reports notwithstanding.

I guess that’s the part that always seems odd when he talks about it on air. He states clearly that he’s not reporting them, and threatens to report them if they don’t cooperate. So is he just full of crap and reporting them anyway to cover his butt or he is admitting on air that he’s not fulfilling his reporting requirement?

It is a little bit silly to talk about not reporting something that you’re broadcasting on national television.

The simplest answer is that he doesn’t have to report because he is not a psychologist.

How about these questions:
– Is a professional practicing psychologist required to report any abuse he becomes aware of, any time, any place? Or is he only required to report abuse he becomes aware of in his professional context (that is, among his actual clients)? If such a “mandatory reporter” sees abuse at his neighbor’s home, or at a public park, or some situation NOT his client, is he required to report that? Is the psychologist, like a police officer, officially “on duty” all the time, everywhere?

– Even if Dr. Phil were still officially practicing psychologist (which above posts establish he is not), are the people who call in to his talk show technically his “clients” in any professional sense?

I’m not a lawyer, but I did spend a few years as a volunteer with an organization that dealt with family violence. We talked about mandatory reporting a lot. The basic gist is that in a lot of places everyone is a mandatory reporter. Here’s what the law says here in Texas:

Sec. 261.101. PERSONS REQUIRED TO REPORT; TIME TO REPORT. (a) A person having cause to believe that a child’s physical or mental health or welfare has been adversely affected by abuse or neglect by any person shall immediately make a report as provided by this subchapter.

Note that it applies to “persons,” not just “professionals,” and that there are no limitations on circumstances. If you have cause to believe a child is being abused or neglected, you report it. Mandatorily.

The only difference applied to “professionals” is that they are required to report within 48 hours:

(b) If a professional has cause to believe that a child has been abused or neglected or may be abused or neglected, or that a child is a victim of an offense under Section 21.11, Penal Code, and the professional has cause to believe that the child has been abused as defined by Section 261.001 or 261.401, the professional shall make a report not later than the 48th hour after the hour the professional first suspects that the child has been or may be abused or neglected or is a victim of an offense under Section 21.11, Penal Code.

There’s nothing that stipulates that this requirement only applies to suspicions raised while the professional is on the job.

Although not specifically part of the above question, the next part of the Texas law may also have some bearing on the question- it notes that these requirements supersede rules that would normally protect confidentiality:

(c) The requirement to report under this section applies without exception to an individual whose personal communications may otherwise be privileged, including an attorney, a member of the clergy, a medical practitioner, a social worker, a mental health professional, and an employee of a clinic or health care facility that provides reproductive services.

It seems that Texas law pretty clearly intends to make the requirements for reporting of child abuse and neglect as broadly applicable as possible. I expect many other states and jurisdictions do the same.

Come to think of it, what he says on air is “I consider myself to be a mandatory reporter…”

That would be consistent with the fact that he’s not practicing psychology anymore, while still giving him something to threaten people with. But without any technical obligation.

Also depends what “…has cause to believe…” means?

General gossip probably does not qualify, but being told directly of specific incidents by a participant obviously does.

I suspect a law requiring a lawyer to violate client privilege would not stand up in court for long. I wonder about clergy being required to report from confidential confessions. I recall something about catholic clergy not being required to testify about what happened in confession…

This first question is impossible to answer, as reporting requirements vary by jurisdiction. Even who someone has to report to varies. If you recall from the Penn State case, officials concluded that the assistant coach who witnessed Jerry Sandusky assaulting the child fulfilled his mandatory reporting requirements by reporting it to higher authorities at the school. Likewise, apparently Joe Paterno fulfilled his legal obligation by reporting it to the U president and … chancellor? Last I heard these guys were still facing charges of failing to meet their reporting obligations. And Pennsylvania was considering revising its reporting requirements so that reporting it up a chain of command would no longer be enough – reporters would have to report it directly to law enforcement or the local child protective authorities. Don’t know if that happened or not.

From the episodes that I’ve seen, Dr Phil has said “I used to work for the courts in abuse cases. Back then, I would have had to report to a judge what [guest on the show] is doing to that child.” Then he uses that as a bit of leverage for the family to accept his intervention.

But he easily could have said it in other episodes like **Dingbang **has stated it.

Per Wikipedia: After starting CSI, McGraw ceased the practice of psychology. He maintained his license current and in good standing until he elected to retire it 15 years later in 2006. http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3468/3750482552_6024990f7b_b.jpg

Apparently if you’ve surrendered your license, you get to choose what to do. :rolleyes:

Dr. Phil was on CSI? I must have missed that season.

I wish I had a more complete answer for you, but mandated reporting is very complicated, depends on the state and sometimes the county. What is mandated to be reported and you what agency can vary, and it’s often poorly understood by the reporting parties.

In California, social workers are mandated child abuse and elder abuse reporters (and a few other very specific and rare things) while they are on the clock. So once they are off shift, they may report their neighbors, just like anybody else, but they are not required to. Reports are made to Child Welfare Services, Adult Protective Services, or, if imminent danger is suspected, to appropriate law enforcement.

There is no requirement for the reporting party to tell the alleged abuser that the report is being made. However, ethics suggests that the reporting party inform the subject unless there’s a really good reason not to.

The language of the law requires a report to be made if there is “reasonable suspicion” of child or elder abuse or neglect. The info can come from witnessing abuse (including verbal abuse), or from information obtained by another person. The reporter needs to act on reasonable suspicion and let the appropriate agency handle investigation.

A social worker is not a mandated reporter for domestic violence. (A child witnessing an act of domestic violence, is, however, considered child abuse, and that is reportable!)

In many California counties, hospital personnel are required to report any injury they suspect is from a crime, including the crime of domestic violence. That doesn’t mean any investigation is necessarily gonna happen, or not happen, but the report must be made. Only one person needs to make the report, not every individual who comes into contact with the patient. Sometimes the police are allowed to report in lieu of hospital personnel. It gets very complicated, and the way the laws are carried out can vary significantly, and sadly, often reporters are not well trained because it’s so complicated.

I think, but am not completely sure, that in California a psych doctor or other doctor is mandated to report child or elder abuse that’s suspected even while she is off the clock.