In his first live interview since his notorious visit with Britney Spears earlier this month, Dr. Phil McGraw revealed that Spears' mother had reached out to him for advice about her daughter more than a year ago.
Television's tough-love doctor discussed his involvement with the Spears family with Diane Sawyer on "Good Morning America" today.
The interview came as McGraw prepared for a broadcast milestone. His nationally syndicated series will air its 1,000th episode Feb. 8 and though his no-nonsense manner is popular with his millions of viewers, his recent interactions with Britney Spears proved that not everyone agrees with his style.
"I don't think it helped the situation. I don't think it hurt the situation," McGraw said in his first live interview about his visit with Spears earlier this month. "I'm an incurable optimist. I hope and pray that Britney will get help and that her life will be used as a great lesson for young stars that come in behind her. And if in some way I can shine some positive light on it in some way I will do that."
Relationship With the Spears Clan
McGraw said his visit to the fallen pop star — when she was admitted for an evaluation after a highly publicized breakdown — was at the request of the star's mother, Lynn Spears, who initially had reached out to him more than a year ago.
Lynn Spears wanted to know what she could do for her daughter and wanted to know about potential facilities. McGraw said the fact that he kept silent for a year about their communication dispels critics' assertions he used Spears for publicity.
"If that is what I was interested in I had an entire year to do that," he said. "I don't do things sensationalistically."
Though his planned Spears' special was scrapped this year after the scrutiny of his statement, McGraw said an earlier show dedicated to her problems received a positive response from Lynn Spears and she thanked him.
But, McGraw said today he has not been in contact with anyone in the Spears camp recently.
"I don't have any contact with them and I've never initiated any contact with them," he said.
Spears Treatment and Speculation
He said he has heard the mother of two is seeking treatment.
"I hear now that she is seeing someone and that she is getting help," McGraw said. "I hope it's true."
Spears' agents have said she now is seeking help for mental issues and the Louisiana native also is in contact with her mother.
The media have speculated Spears' problems stem from a bipolar disorder, but McGraw refused to give a medical diagnosis.
"Of course I'm not wiling to say that. Everybody else is willing to say that," he said. "It would be really wrong for me, or anybody else, to opine what is really wrong with her."
Why He Spoke Out
McGraw said part of the reason he initially made a public statement after meeting with the mother of two also was because of the intense paparazzi scrutiny outside the hospital.
"I was followed into the hospital. I was followed out," he said. "My hope was that if I made a very general statement I would stymie any [speculation on what happened or why I was there]."
McGraw added even when he gave his statement, he made a point not to disclose any of Spears' medical information.
The tough-talking Texan stopped short of calling his media statement a mistake, but he said he regretted it because it didn't work. McGraw said he knew helping Spears wouldn't be "a cakewalk," but he was committed to do what he could.
"I haven't seen anybody else step up and try," McGraw said.
The Spears family called his public statements "a betrayal" after he said of Spears, "She is in dire need of both medical and psychological intervention."
His critics alleged that he was practicing without a license, which he gave up when to came to television.
"I know what it is to practice psychology," he said. McGraw added he makes it very clear people should not regard his advice a substitute for counseling.
Still, he said his words come from experience.
"When I retired my license, I didn't turn in 20-25 years of experience," McGraw said. "I just don't practice privately anymore."
McGraw added he is not opposed to criticism.
"I'm not above question. I'm not above criticism," he said. "And I get that."
However, tabloid rumors about Oprah Winfrey firing him and chastising his work are untrue, he said.
"People just report these things and they just aren't true," McGraw said.
In fact, Winfrey appeared in his 1,000 episode, where they discussed a myriad things.