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flo's avatar

How could Dr.Phil say "the predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour", considering what he does on TV? See detail?

Asked by flo (12974points) August 4th, 2010

People change all the time. 1) Friends/ relatives/strangers help them to see what they are doing 2)they see a therapist 3) they see another person who behaves the same way, and that gives them a jolt etc. And Dr. Phil knows that, so what does he mean? Even if a lay person says that it makes no sense.

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30 Answers

FutureMemory's avatar

Have you ever heard the expression History repeats itself? He means people tend to behave according to patterns, rather than randomly.

flo's avatar

@FutureMemory I don’t agree. But I mean is he telling us that what he and all his colleagues do is is fake? It can’t be that he telling us that they are ripping off people openly?

MacBean's avatar

People can change if they want to and make an effort to. Most people don’t think they’re doing anything wrong, though, and so they don’t want to change and don’t make that effort. So you can predict what they will do by what they have done.

flo's avatar

@MacBean, if you would reread my question? It is about Dr.Phil saying….

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perspicacious's avatar

It doesn’t have to always be true, I hope.

anartist's avatar

change is hard, especially characterological change. Just because a person wants to change doesn’t mean they do. And, even if they do, the change is likely to be in small increments. As @FutureMemory says, history repeats itself. Once in a while, with a lot of hared work, maybe it doesn’t.

stardust's avatar

It’s quite true that history can and does repeat itself. That can be seen in day to day life. If you look at a family you know, or perhaps your own, you may see similarities in behaviour between parent and child, etc. The scenarios are endless.
Also, what you say can and does happen. However, as @MacBean said, this is a choice and it involves work and commitment on and to oneself. I think it’s safe to say there’s an exception to every rule/theory, etc, etc

Seaminglysew's avatar

Is it possible that he is speaking about those people that don’t seek help from a professional?
Of course anyone can change, but some are unaware that they need to.

flo's avatar

Noone is addressing the question, really. Let’s say you all have kids. When they do something wrong for the first time, do you let them know that you forgive them, since it is the first time, and that you expect it to be the first and last time, or do you tell them that since they did it once you expect them to do it again?
@Seaminglysew . On a daily basis people around us show us their disapprioval. We learn from the embarrassement from the looks that we get, etc. The majority of people are not seeing a therapist. (Edited – “they” changed to “we”).

FutureMemory's avatar

It seems the key error of your original question that resulted in everyone not ‘getting it’ was your lack of specifying it to be the first time such behavior ever occurred.

Seaminglysew's avatar

I believe that if you watch the show, he is reffering to people who repeatedly take advantage of others in some way, and feel that they are O.K. in doing so. We are not talking about our children who learn from thier mistakes, we are talking about adults who don’t learn.

flo's avatar

Point taken. To be continued.

netgrrl's avatar

There an old saying that if you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve alway gotten.

Change is hard. Very hard. Most people aren’t going to or won’t do the work until their status has made them so unhappy any change is preferable.

boffin's avatar

…“the predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour”

a.k.a. “A Leopard can’t change his spots…

sleepdoc's avatar

I don’t know what frame of reference you he said this in. But what he means, I think, it that most of us establish a pattern of behavior and persist in it. Yes we can change, but even when we want to, we don’t always do it.

Afos22's avatar

If you saw John run head first into the wall on Friday, and you saw John run head first into the wall on Saturday…What do you think John will do on Sunday?

Buttonstc's avatar

Actually, his normal rendition of that quote has some key qualifiers in it.

The BEST predictor of future behavior is RELEVANT past behavior.

Best but not invariably only.

And he most often says it in the context of referring to someone resistant to change. Or someone with whom it would be unwise for loved ones to continue in the same type of relationship pattern they’ve previously had.

He says it most frequently to someone who is the spouse of a domestic batterer who looks with rose colored glasses figuring they can change him if they love him or harbour guilt from believing the violent ones’ assertions that “you drove me to it. If you hadn’t done XYZ then I wouldn’t have been so mad”

Or most frequently to the parents or SOs of addicts who just don’t get it. They are in denial about the necessity of of loving confrontation, immediate rehab and whatever ongoing treatment the professionals deem necessary and drawing and sticking to a bottom line and healthy boundaries.

He’s trying to cut through the layers of denial and false optimism which keep them locked into a pattern of enablement.

In making the distinction of stating BEST predictor, I take that to mean that a determined effort aided by therapy can supersede or ameliorate that tendency.

If someone is involved with another person with repeated toxic behavior, wishing or hoping it away won’t do the trick. If the toxic person refuses to acknowledge that their behavior is unhealthy and refuses help, the prediction is very accurate.

For the loved ones, he’s trying to shake them out of their inertia and false optimism before someone ends up irrevocably harmed or possibly dead. Sometimes the blunt truth of that statement helps them realize that professional intervention is a necessity.

flo's avatar

Last time, I wrote “point taken”, because I brought up the first time offenders.
So, is he saying, “Unless you stop behaving the way you have been behaving, you will keep behaving the way you have been behaving”? That can’t be the best signature statement.
I don’t remember the “RELEVANT” part in the statement.(edited)
By the way, subconciously, people think most people are that disfunctional, are they?

Buttonstc's avatar

Let me give this another try.

The word to focus upon for the sake of answering your Q is not necessarily the word “relevant”. (I just happen to like accuracy and I’ve heard him say that so many times I just gave the accurate version)

The important word is BEST (predictor of behavior) as opposed to ONLY.

The way you have stated your misinterpretion of what he said, that important distinction has been eliminated. BEST is vastly different from ONLY.

Secondly, without context, the meaning can be skewed a variety of different ways.

As I said, this is not a general statement he is making about his profession. He is using it very specifically to those involved with and impacted by the destructive behavior of another.

He is saying it to illustrate the fact that, WITHOUT PROFESSIONAL INTERVENTION, this person’s behavior is extremely unlikely to change because people do what works for them (or what they are allowed to get away with). By the time an adult’s behavior is that dangerous to himself or others, nothing short of professional involvement is likely effective. We’re not talking about eliminating biting ones fingernails or losing 20 pounds. The context is more along the lines of abuse or addiction.

This is does not apply to disciplining or training young children as you tried to apply it. Children are much more malleable and good parenting, with proper discipline and boundaries, can do a lot to shape or change change behavior patterns. But left to their own devices they can develop all kinds of maladaptive behavior ending up as spoiled brats.

Without intervention, adults will usually continue in destructive (to others as well as themselves) behavior patterns.

That intervention could come in numerous different forms. An insightful book, a trip to jail, a religious experience, an illness resulting from the behavior, etc etc. Different things work for different people.

Absent that, people will continue in their behavior patterns.

Obviously, therapy or rehab can be another form of intervention which gives a person insight to overcome the behavior.

That statement he makes is usually found in the CONTEXT of trying to get people in denial out of denial.

In the case of abuse or addiction this is important in order to make it chrystal clear to those being placed in danger from another that the options are clear cut. Either intervention or get out of the situation before you end up dead or you and others are irrevocably harmed

That is the most frequent context for his statement. He ALWAYS frames it with the word BEST predictor, not only.

I have NEVER heard that statement from him WITHOUT the word BEST. it would be a foolish statement without it. I’m certain that checking transcripts of the shows will prove this.

It’s a very sensible statement meant to illustrate the truth that WITHOUT ANY MOTIVATION OR METHOD TO CHANGE, people will continue to do what they have done in the past. That is absolutely true.

And that’s precisely why the profession of Psychology exists. It can be a means to enable a motivated person to effect that change.

But, without the persons desire to change:
The BEST predictor of future behavior…....etc etc etc.

flo's avatar

@Buttonstc I forgot to thank you last time for putting so much work on it. Thanks again.
But to me if I pay a psychologist to help me stop a bad behaviour, I would hope she would give me the blueprint on how to stop it. Or if I am in denial about the wrongness of it, point out why it is wrong, let me know why I am doing it. And he does that wery well. I just find that he doesn’t need to say such a thing as unless you stop it, you will not stop it. Any lay person could say that.

Buttonstc's avatar

But that’s NOT what he was saying. Your paraphrase bears little relationship to both what he actually said or to his intent.

Go back and re-read his exact words which I included in my first post. He says it the exact same way EVERY TIME.

Your version is ” unless you stop it , you will not stop it”. That bears no relationship to what he actually said. None whatsoever.

He is NOT saying it to the patient DURING therapy in the way that you describe.

He is saying it to their loved ones who are impacted by this person’s dangerous behavior BEFORE therapy to open their eyes to the need for therapy.

Those are two different scenarios entirely. Apples and Oranges

When you combine an inaccurately stated quote AND change the context as well, it totally changes it’s meaning.

I feel like we’re in the twilight zone on this. You keep twisting the words around and then say that any lay person could say that. The only problem is that’s NOT WHAT HE SAID.

It’s your version of what he said so of course it sounds like what a layperson would say. Because you’re the one saying it that way NOT him.

Doo doo doo doo…....cue Twilight Zone music here :)

flo's avatar

@Buttonstc “Doo doo doo doo…....cue Twilight Zone music here :)” not helpful.

flo's avatar

The one that needs to stop the behavior and the one who enables it are the same in that both parties need to stop their behaviour.

When they stop the bad behaviour, the future behaviuor becomes opposite from past behaviour. So, the statement becomes no longer true. Nobody can predict the future.

Buttonstc's avatar


I’m done.

flo's avatar

I think it is the absence of intervention, whether it intervention by family/friends, or critical self analysis, or “divine intervention” (as in Samuel Jackson’s character’s case in the movie Pulp Fiction, or other things, that makes a bad behaviour continue, not the past behaviour.

flo's avatar

Oops! to correct myself above: it should be the absence of effective intervention,...

onewhohaschanged's avatar

The best predictor of future behaviour is RELEVENT past behaviour
For people who have been hurt bad in any degree , then keep getting hurt for how ever long it takes to dismiss the infiltrator or the atmosphere in which it has happened , it starts with baby steps.
Living with a partner with BPD for many years and not knowing in the beginning how to react i was abusive. Verbally & at times pushing for space . Not Acceptable , i changed though thank you Dr Phil
The comment is proactive not distractive.
The paraphrase is brilliant thank you Buttonstc , you have explained this perfectly and very intelligently .
Yes everyone can change , but most dont !!
To hear this from The Dr phil show some 15 years ago has changed me for the better
Cheers from Australia

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