Analyze this

From his seat on Oprah, Dallas' Dr. Phil McGraw reigns as the king of quick fixes for troubled relationships. But what about his own?

"I have seen him on Oprah, and it is amazing," says Dickenson. "The phrases and the terminology and the quaint sayings -- that's right out of the program. He always wanted people to believe that the seminar came from him. His fear was that he would be exposed as not being the guru he put himself up to being."

Box suggests he take his own strategy to heart: Life Law No. 4: "You cannot change what you do not acknowledge. Get real with yourself about life and everybody in it."

"Dr. Phil is here, telling it like it is, talking to couples who are in emotionally abusive relationships." Oprah's voice sounds soothing, as though she doesn't breathe between sentences. "He talks a lot about this in his book Relationship Rescue, and we are trying to rescue some relationships here today."

Dr. Phil McGraw, far left, co-founded Courtroom Sciences Inc. in Dallas after quitting his silk-stocking psychology practice in Wichita Falls.
Mark Graham
Dr. Phil McGraw, far left, co-founded Courtroom Sciences Inc. in Dallas after quitting his silk-stocking psychology practice in Wichita Falls.

On a large studio screen, the camera rolls video footage of Elisabeth and Jimmy on their ranch. The background music swells as Elisabeth tells her tale of abuse. "It is getting really unbearable around here," she explains. "A typical day, we get along fine and the kids come in, and he becomes this other person. Negative and derogatory."

Jimmy bounces back: "I'm not one to hit nobody or nothin'. I do call her bad names...I knew she had children and all that. It has been a big change and all that."

"The words hurt," counters Elisabeth. "Sometimes I just wish he would hit me, because the words hurt more than the physical hit."

As the video ends, Phil McGraw looks ready to fight. He is leaning toward Jimmy, scowling slightly, his fists clenched.

"I want you and everyone in America to know this," he says. "I will tell you the truth as I see it. Any man who goes home and closes the door and abuses his wife and children is a coward and a bully."

Oprah looks mesmerized, Jimmy terrified. The audience is ignited by McGraw's indignation. No applause signs are necessary.

"If you do that," he continues with Jimmy, "you choose to do it where it's safe. You don't do it at some biker bar. You don't do it at some job where they can fire you. You don't do it with someone like me. You want to abuse me?"

Jimmy lowers his head in submission. McGraw has championed the abused women of America. It's a win-win for them, for Jimmy, but mostly for McGraw. The audience loves him. They want to take him home to dinner.

The office park that houses Courtroom Sciences at Las Colinas in Irving looks bland from the outside, but step into the lobby, and things feel disproportionately monumental. A 50-foot ceiling, massive paintings climbing the walls, oversized couches with enough seating for a jury, a forbidding receptionist's desk designed like a judge's bench -- these all create the image that big things happen here.

On the second floor, McGraw stands by the desk in his office, hurriedly trying to get off the phone. "As long as it stays around $400 million, you handle it," he tells an anxious lawyer. "I won't get involved until it gets to $500 million."

He apologizes as he hangs up the phone. "A lot of clients ask me to be the point man in negotiations," he says. "So I often get involved in the actual horse trading...I have the ability to reduce even the most complex situation down to the three to four key things they are really all about."

Only McGraw can say something so self-aggrandizing yet make it come out so damn honest. He's disarming, with his self-effacing humor and his "aw shucks" country-boy charm. Yet the advice he offers comes with such certainty and clarity, you become convinced you'd be a fool not to take it and gladly pay for it.

McGraw is a bottom-line guy who has been able to make a fortune by asking one fundamental question: What do you really want? And whether he poses that question in the therapy room, the training room, or the courtroom, McGraw's trick is to come up with the answer.

In 1990, McGraw, along with his Wichita Falls neighbor, attorney Gary Dobbs, founded CSI, or Courtroom Sciences Inc. McGraw's intuitive ability to read people quickly made him valuable to trial lawyers trying to pick favorable jurors. His ability to break down complex litigation into digestible bits that a jury could swallow made him an asset to any trial team.

What McGraw savored was the competitiveness of the courtroom, the adrenaline-pumping feel that comes with winning and losing. Psychology was just too fuzzy for him, he says. "I feel about litigation the way Patton did about war: 'God help me, I do love it so.'"

As a practicing psychologist, he became an expert witness, often testifying in divorce and personal-injury cases. The more he testified, the more lawyers wanted him to help develop strategies for their cases from jury selection to verdict.

By 1989, he felt he had a decision to make. Continue in the gossipy small town that he had outgrown and the psychology practice that he did not love, or move to Dallas and pursue his passion as a jury-selection expert.

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