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Dr. Laura's Life Lessons : Laura Schlessinger's signature style is beyond no-nonsense. The radio shrink wants everyone to straighten up and fly right.

March 13, 1994|IRENE LACHER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dr. Laura Schlessinger, the radio scourge of the immature, has a lesson for you.

To illustrate it, she plucks one from a zillion stories of Angst and ennui crammed in her head, ready to roll in moments like this. The tale is about a short-lived early marriage, the unfurling of a union of hard-working New York professionals with a luminous future.

On a fateful stroll across the George Washington Bridge shortly after they met, the woman was wearing heels, and the walk cost her knee-cap cartilage and a couple of years of pain.

So the young man took care of her. He carried her on his shoulders. He came home at noon and put her on the potty. And then one night at dinner, he told her his fears.

"I'm afraid when you get better," he said, "because I don't think you'll need me."

She did get better and he did become more afraid, which translated into rudeness, and the woman left him.

"He created what he most feared," says the popular KFI AM-640 talk-show shrink.

Dr. Laura Lesson No. 1: Do trust anyone under 30--just not enough to marry them.

Dr. Laura Lesson No. 2: When a guy tells you something, listen. "He was telegraphing that he needed me to be helpless."

Me ?

Today's lesson stems from Schlessinger's first marriage to an orthodontic student at Columbia University, where she earned her doctorate in physiology ( ergo , the Dr. in Dr. Laura). When Dr. Laura talks and sometimes hectors her radio audience into shaping up and flying right, she may very well be drawing on her own life.

So the ultimate Dr. Laura lesson is this: There's a lesson in everything.

"I always look for it," she says, sitting back straight, hands folded, in a KFI office. "One of the ways I survive is, I look for what I can get out of this, how I can be a little stronger from this point on, what can I learn to be better."

Schlessinger packed a course-worth of Dr. Laura life lessons into her new book, "Ten Stupid Things Women Do to Mess Up Their Lives." The in-your-face title is vintage Dr. Laura, whose signature style is beyond no-nonsense. Take her take on the word stupid .

"Not intelligent," she says crisply. "Not using one's brain. Using one's immediate need. Emotion. Weaknesses. Genital titillation."

Dr. Feelgood she's not.

Schlessinger, 47, whose on-and-off radio career spans 18 years, long ago dispensed with such therapeutic niceties as being non-judgmental, the principle on which many counselors cut their teeth. Schlessinger's orneriness wins her high ratings--she's No. 2 in her noon-to-2 p.m. time slot after KLAX-FM, a Spanish-language music station, according to the fall '93 Arbitron ratings. And she says her show will go national in late spring, but she declined to give details.

In a recent KFI promo, Schlessinger calls one woman lazy. During a show, she tells a caller that a boyfriend who believes in hitting an 18-month-old is insane: "Get rid of this guy or just date him, but keep him away from your kids."

"I think you have to get people's attention, and I call something what it is," says Schlessinger, a petite woman in big red Sally Jessy Raphael glasses and a suit like blue stained glass. "People are very used to hearing New Age sweetie stuff and I wasn't doing that at all. . . . You could say, 'This is a choice determined by all the historical pain you've had.' I don't think these motivate people to face the truth and do anything constructive."

Which summons up another Dr. Laura story. This one is about a lesson learned in therapy school, as she calls it. One of her supervisors, a refined woman of a certain age, invited her to imagine people who lived in houses with slats for floors.

"Now they don't have a bathroom, so they do it in between the slats. People basically will not move until the poop gets too high.

"I had a shock of recognition of what a brilliant concept that was. And it's true. So the bluntness brings the truth of the moment and I think the ultimate pain to the fore, and I think that makes people realize they have to move. Until that, there are rationalizations, denial all over the place. I only have a few minutes with people, so my style has evolved in that I've been taught by my callers what works."

But her distinctive kick-butt style earns her mixed marks from other therapists.

Calling callers cowardly and lazy is "absolutely outrageous," says a former Pepperdine student of Schlessinger. "Laura said one time in class that she always gets mad at a client if a client says, 'I don't know.' She said, 'I don't believe a client doesn't know. I hate that answer.' My feeling is, what's Laura's need to be answered? She yells at people."

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