Let’s return briefly to the story that inspired my last post. On his popular T.V. show, Dr. Phil presents a mother, Shannon and her daughter, Ryann who are in conflict. Shannon calls her daughter a “pathological liar.” The daughter returns the favor by calling her mother a liar.
Shannon has brought her daughter to Dr. Phil for psychological help because she’s been “catfishing” on the internet, portraying herself as a bubbly blonde cheerleader, sexually wild, sleeping in an army barracks and fabricating pregnancies to trap men to commit to her.
Descriptions of the details of the young Ryann’s behaviors and repeated contradictions between her stories and her mother’s accounts are presented.
The treatment of this mother and daughter’s situation seemed slick and sensational at times. But I applaud Dr Phil for providing important information by highlighting the dangers of catfishing, “luring someone into relationship by means of a fictional online persona.” Dr. Phil used this family’s problem as an example of how posting misleading online profiles can lead to harm or injury. We want to know about catfishing. It’s important and we need to pay attention.
On the flip side, I didn’t get much information from this episode about the history of the relationships between Shannon and Ryann. I cannot help but look at this problem through my therapist lens. I would have liked to know more about these dynamics so I could understand better what led to the problem and how best to help.
Confrontation seemed inherent in Dr. Phil’s approach to the problem. He focused on the differences between the mother’s and daughter’s versions of events. He was quick to point out the “inaccuracies” in the daughter’s statements. I could have been sitting in a courtroom, on a jury, being asked to judge who was right-or wrong.
Some of the information had been lifted from Ryann’s private email and social media communications. This seemed unethical.
While I know it’s critical to get Mom and daughter’s statement of what happened and understand their positions, I think it’s also important to realize that contradictions in family stories are not unusual. Like Shannon and Ryann, family members often remember things differently. This doesn’t mean they are deliberately lying or that one is right and the other wrong.
I was pleased to watch the end of the episode and see that Shannon and Ryann were referred to a treatment center. I applaud Dr. Phil’s introduction of the estranged father in the session, especially since he expressed willingness to be part of Ryann’s life. It led me to wonder about the role his absence may have played.
I would have liked to hear more about the observations and thoughts of Dr. Phil and his team about some of the underlying issues and also their ideas for the treatment.
In my third and last blog in this series about truth, lies and labels and approaches to troubled relationships, I will share some of my hunches about what was going on with this family (underlying dynamics or “subtext”) and how I would have approached their problems in my treatment plan.
I’d love to hear your ideas on this!
Speak From Your Heart and Be Heard: Stories of Courage and Healing is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle and some independent bookstores.