Magazine article Family Therapy Networker

AROUND THE NETWORK: America's Therapist; Loving and Loathing Dr. Laura

Magazine article Family Therapy Networker

AROUND THE NETWORK: America's Therapist; Loving and Loathing Dr. Laura

Article excerpt

MANY MAINSTREAM THERAPISTS MAY NOT even have heard of her, but for the 18 million radio listeners who tune in to "The Dr. Laura Program" every week, Laura Schlessinger, the show's host, is the only therapist they'll ever need a confrontational, moral gadfly, who would rather bite off her own tongue than sugar coat her message with mushy psychologisms. A Ph.D. in physiology and a licensed marriage, family and child counselor in California, Schlessinger practiced therapy for 13 years before becoming a radio personality, which better suited her talents as inspired scold and crusading warrior against the "me-first" ethic of our society, particularly when children are likely to be hurt by the loose commitments and free-swinging lifestyle of their parents. "Rule Number One: We do what's good for our kids, whether it tastes good or not," is a Dr.  Laura maxim. She has purged from her vocabulary, and refuses to entertain from her callers, psychological cliches as excuses for bad behavior a person's low self-esteem, abusive childhood and dysfunctional family background leave her unmoved. Introducing herself on the air as "my kid's mom," she is, for as many as 50,000 fans who try to get through to her on every show, the kind of "mom" who isn't afraid to cuff her naughty offspring in the chops and deliver a blistering lecture at the same time.

People love her and loathe her for much the same reason what one clinician called her "take-no-prisoners" approach that sometimes seems fully deserved by callers who appear to have misplaced their brains along with their morals. Jennifer, for example, chirpily told Dr. Laura that her boyfriend of 4 years also had another girlfriend he'd been seeing (with Jennifer's knowledge) for 10 years. But he was now very, very slowly trying to break it off with number one, and Jennifer wanted to know if she was taking "too much responsibility" by pushing him to try a little harder and also worrying about the other woman's feelings. 'You didn't worry about her feelings when you moved in on her boyfriend 4 years ago," Dr. L. practically shrieked. "Why are you even going with this man?" "Because we click," Jennifer said. 'You are not taking too much responsibility," Schlessinger finally commented after steamrollering over Jennifer's increasingly desperate attempts to protest, "you aren't taking any responsibility," and hung up. "She just didn't dick with me," Dr. Laura huffed afterward.

She often pronounces on a listener's problem with breathtaking speed and certainty, letting fly with some hard truths unvarnished by any of the usual therapeutic stroking. A woman with three young children and another on the way says her husband has forged her signature on a check made out to both of them, cashed it and spent it. What should she do should she let her husband "get away with it." Schlessinger asks her if anyone who knew her husband would be surprised at his behavior or think it was out of character. "No, they wouldn't," the woman answers. "Do you want to divorce him or have him arrested for forgery and sent to jail?" asks Dr. Laura. In a quavering voice, the woman says she does not, but would Dr. Laura have any other suggestions. 'You've known for a long time what he's like, you've had problems with him before, but you stayed married and in bed with him, you kept on making babies with him," Schlessinger barks. "I can't imagine what you can do about it now. You've been living all these years with a gorilla..., but unless you want him arrested or divorced, I don't have a clue. At this point, you've painted yourself into a very tight corner. These are the consequences of all those years [of making excuses for him]. You gave yourself no alternative." As the woman begins to cry, Dr. L. briskly finishes her off, 'You have to make the best of it, because you have kids. I appreciate your calling."

Schlessinger inspires ambivalence among admirers and detractors alike. "The first time I heard her, I was appalled and apoplectic," says William Doherty, director of the Marriage and Family Therapy Program at the University of Minnesota, "but as I listen, I realize she is tapping a deep cultural need in this society millions of people feel they are morally adrift and yearn for clear standards of right and wrong. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.