(CBS Local)- The coronavirus pandemic has forced all of us to make adjustments and television productions are no different. The Dr. Phil show, entering its 19th season Monday, recently returned to the studio to film this season of shows. With the return to the studio, there have been plenty of adjustments to accommodate for the realities of every day life in this time.
Dr. Phil spoke with CBS Local's Ryan Mayer about returning to the studio, the changes that have been made and the premiere shows of the season. A two-part episode that focuses on a woman named Amy who calls herself "Mother God" and claims to be capable of performing spiritual surgery with her hands and talks to dead people.
RM: Dr. Phil, thank you for taking the time today. You're returning to the studio now amid what has been an unusual year, what has been the most gratifying part of being back?
Dr. Phil: We wanted to get back on set where we have all the tools to get our message out. There have been a very rigid set of guidelines by the ViacomCBS task force in terms of safety, testing, all the different zones and restrictions for where people can and can't go. We don't have an audience here, our audience is virtual. But, they are highly interactive so I do get feedback from them like I do my studio audience.
It's very gratifying to be back on set where we have the tools, our graphics, our videos to emphasize the messages that we're putting out. We're very glad to be back at home even though 80 percent of our staff is working from home. We're very glad to be back on set.
RM: You mentioned some of the protocols that are in place for the show as you return, from your perspective what has been the most challenging part of doing the show in this format?
Dr. Phil: Well, obviously we're going to have to talk to some guests virtually rather than in person. But, I've been very impressed that the guests have been so committed. We have had guests that have driven in from Pittsburgh, from Colorado, Utah and Texas. Even though we're not able to fly guests in because they don't want guests on mass transit, I have been very gratified to see that our guests have been willing to drive two and three days to get here and participate in what we're doing.
We are going to have to do some virtually instead of in person and that's a challenge. But, all in all, no complaints on this end.
RM: Season 19 begins with a two part episode about a woman who claims she can perform healing spiritual surgery with her hands. What do you believe to be happening with Amy?
Dr. Phil: I believe that this is a very unusual situation. We have dealt with a lot of alleged cults in the past but seldom do we get the alleged cult leader to be willing to come on and subject themselves to really hard edged questioning.
In this situation, "Mother God," as Amy refers to herself and as referred to by her followers, was willing to come on and participate and subject herself to questioning. In so doing, my opinion after interacting with her is that she is very narcissistic. I think she's an alcoholic. I think she's a drug addict. I think she is abusive to children, adults and animals. I think she is highly delusional and very dangerous.
There is no telling where this is all going to wind up when it finally hits the wall. And, I think she is misleading people, promising one thing and delivering another. And I think it's a dangerous situation. We had a cult expert who studied the situation and was part of the show. He says he believes it's one of the most dangerous organizations operating in the country today and the estimate is there are at least 5,000 cults operating in America at any given time.
RM: The danger of the group and groups like it is something you are focused on, why do believe groups like these pose such a specific danger to people in a time when they're already feeling disconnected.
Dr. Phil: I think people are looking for answers and now these folks are on the internet three and four hours a day promising answers to all of your ills. 'We'll take you away from all of the strife, the pressure, you can escape here. We rise above everything. I think right now, that falls on some very desperate ears where people are looking for an escape route from financial pressure, loneliness, divisiveness, and polarization in society.
I think this is a very fertile time for these organizations to be enticing people looking for an escape. Then, when it doesn't happen and the narcissists can't deliver, who knows how desperate they'll get and what lengths they're willing to go to.
RM: What advice would you have for people in terms of warning signs that they or their loved ones may be involved with groups like these?
Dr. Phil: I do think you need to be very careful who your family members are talking to on the internet because that is where they are recruiting these days. The main thing that these people do is get folks involved and then get them to start burning bridges with any outside influence. That is how they control their minds. That is how they get them to listen to just that one voice. So, they burn bridges with family, friends, churches, outside contacts. Then, when it all falls apart, the individual feels like, 'well I've alienated everybody in my life so I have nowhere to go.'
What have to do is make sure your loved one knows that's not true. I don't care what you said to me in a letter. I don't care what you accused me of. I love you, I'm here for you, I'll never close the door on you. If you know where they are and you have to go stand outside the gate every chance you get, do that. Post things on the internet, they might be able to see them. Send them letters, one might get through. Let them know they have somewhere to go and that you have not closed the door on them.
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