Physiologist Laura – controversial advice given by radio talk show host Laura Schlessinger – Brief Article – Editorial

Robert Epstein

Imagine a sustained, throaty gurgling, like something out of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. From the sound, a woman’s words, barely audible, emerge: “It’s time for warrrr” The words are those of physiologist Laura Schlessinger, and for once I agree with her.

My radio program staff and I have been monitoring Schlessinger’s radio show for the past few months, and I’m both sickened and saddened by what we’ve found. The gay community rightly pounded her over insensitive remarks she made about homosexuality, and pressure from that community helped kill her television show. But her attitude about gays is only a small part of the Physiologist Laura Problem. If she’s really talking to an audience of 18 million admirers every day, we’re a nation in deep trouble, and here’s why:

First, her advice is often divisive, potentially driving apart spouse from spouse, lover from lover, even parent from child. One caller asked whether it would be appropriate for him to charge his 23-year-old son rent for living at home, even though the caller’s wife was adamantly opposed to the idea. Laura advised the caller to throw his son out “by the end of the week’–an action that likely would have caused extraordinary turmoil in the family. She told another caller that he shouldn’t allow any contact between his child and the child’s grandmother because the grandmother’s partner (not the grandmother herself) might have sexually abused a child years before. Grandma, it seems, was guilty by association. The fact that Laura is estranged from both her mother and her sister suggests that she’s using the airwaves to act out her own problems, rather than to help listeners and callers.

Second–and this is doubly ironic given both her checkered personal history and her image as a mental health professional–she often conveys the message that people can’t change. In one poignant call, a young woman said that she had married a prisoner who had “drastically changed” in order to give him a “second chance.” Laura’s reply? “You’re lying … You don’t know that he changed.” To a woman concerned about her fiance’s behavior, Laura advised against counseling, because “there’s no counseling for character.” As a young woman, Schlessinger herself dated and “shacked up” with a married man, posed for nude pictures and committed other indiscretions of a sort that she now condemns daily. She has changed; can’t others do so too? If people can’t change, what’s the point of psychotherapy or, for that matter, of advice shows?

Third, she not only models intolerance and abusive behavior but also advocates such behavior–even violence. She cuts people off–people calling for help, people trusting her with their problems. She calls people names: “he’s evil,” “you’re a whore,” “they’re crappy people,” “you’re a doormat,” “they’re both sickos.” In one recent call, a mom expressed concern about a relative who was “touchy,” and Schlessinger insisted, twice, that she inform him that if he came within five feet of anyone in her family, she’d “haul off and belt him across the mouth.” Alas, the caller replied, “I can do that.”

Schlessinger’s doctorate is in physiology, not psychology, but calling herself “Dr.” while dispensing psychological advice suggests otherwise. In a survey we conducted recently in New York, of 50 people who said they knew who Schlessinger was, 44% said she was either a psychologist or a psychiatrist, and only 30% were sure she was neither. She helps perpetuate these misconceptions. In one call we recorded, Schlessinger failed to correct a caller who was specifically looking for advice from a psychologist; she didn’t lie, but she also didn’t disclose. In fact, she is licensed as a masters-level marriage and family therapist in California, but her license has been “inactive” for two years, according to the licensing board.

No legitimate mental health professional would ever give the kind of hateful, divisive advice that Schlessinger doles out daily. Real therapists try to heal wounds and bring people together, not instigate conflict. You’ve changed before, Physiologist Laura. Can you do so again?

Dr. Epstein is editor-in chief of psychology today and host of the magazine’s daily radio program, accessible at He’s also University Research Professor at United States International University and Director Emeritus of the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies. He has a Ph.D. in psychology from Harvard University.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Sussex Publishers, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group

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