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I Don't Do Therapy

COVER STORY

Dr. Laura Schlessinger, the Country's Top Female Radio Personality, Calls Herself a Prophet. What She Frequently Calls Others Is an Entirely Different Matter.

January 18, 1998|JANET WISCOMBE | Janet Wiscombe's last article for the magazine contemplated what life would be like if tobacco were declared illegal

With a mixture of down-home street talk and titillating frankness about penises and panties, Dr. Laura zooms in on callers' most intimate problems--from whose house to go to for the holidays to what to do when your husband is sleeping with your sister. In three minutes, she strips a problem to its naked essence and badgers callers to admit what's really going on in their messed-up lives.

Based on data from AT&T, her publicists estimate that 60,000 people a day clamor to be one of the 20 or so callers who actually get past the busy signal and screeners for a few minutes of anonymous "therapy." Dr. Laura hates that word, and insists she doesn't dispense therapy or advice. She offers moral opinions--without the warm chicken soup. It's her job "to teach, preach and nag."

Callers, of course, don't make the distinction. They assume Dr. Laura, who refers to herself as a shrink, is, well, a shrink. She is licensed as a marriage, family and child counselor, but she's not a psychologist and hasn't personally undergone therapy. Her doctorate is in physiology, a branch of biology.

She and her husband also stoke the entrepreneurial fires with other Dr. Laura enterprises. Fans can subscribe to her monthly magazine, "Dr. Laura Perspective," for $29 (Schlessinger is the editor, Bishop a contributing photographer and their son, Deryk, 12, creative consultant); leave a message at the Dr. Laura Web site (http://www.drlaura.com), read her newly published best-seller, "Ten Stupid Things Men Do to Mess Up Their Lives," or order from the Dr. Laura Collection, a catalog featuring a full line of merchandise--from books and videos to Dr. Laura workout wear and Dr. Laura staff shirts (100% cotton denim, $39.95).

Schlessinger says she'd rather not mention which television networks have wooed her, because she doesn't want her rejections to embarrass them. She's not interested in TV anyway, unless PBS comes calling. "PBS is a very classy venue," she says, "and it would be a higher level of discourse, the level we're headed."

She has been bestowed with honors, including the 1997 Marconi Radio Award as the top syndicated personality of the year from the National Assn. of Broadcasters--the first woman to win it. She can command up to $30,000 a speech and still has energy enough to raise money for charity and to work on her biceps with a personal trainer and her larynx with a singing coach, keep kosher and observe the Sabbath, read several newspapers and stacks of books, write commentaries and collaborate with her rabbi on a book due out next spring with the working title "The Ten Commandments: What's In It for Me?"

Most important, she is home to greet Deryk every day when he returns from school.

And if she can do it, you can, too.

Dr. Laura is such a vociferous defender of stay-at-home moms she has become a four-star general in the Family Values crusade, a not-so-covert conservative who quotes the Weekly Standard and the Heritage Foundation. She rails against feminism and abortion, vehemently argues against sex education in public schools and instinctively knows how to mine the overflowing trenches of guilt-ridden Americans who are struggling to juggle kids and jobs in a global village that's still under construction.

At a time when half the mothers of babies work and half stay home, Dr. Laura draws lines in the dirt between Bad Mothers and Good Mothers. She is a Good Mother, a "recovered feminist," and she and her fans wear shirts with imprints to prove it ("I Am My Kid's Mom"). When Deryk was born, she sacrificed her income and her work to stay home for four years. What she doesn't mention is that when Deryk was young, she was an adjunct professor in the graduate school of education and psychology at Pepperdine University, maintained a private counseling practice and operated a knitting business from her home. What's important, she now says, is that she was rarely away from home, and when she was, Bishop was with their son. She's not against women working, Dr. Laura says, she's against leaving children in child care.

Certainly she's an enigma, a sought-after professional, the heroine of homemakers, a divorced career woman who was so sure she didn't want children at one point that she had a tubal ligation, a staunch defender of the commandment to Honor Thy Mother and Father who has been estranged from her own sister and mother for 15 years. Her mother, who has never met Deryk, lives in Southern California.

She dismisses her family of origin with a flat statement: "I'm an orphan."

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