OUCH OUCH: “Hanging up on Dr. Laura”

The Los Angeles Times recently published a letter to the editor from Eugene Strull, a physician, commenting on the recent brouhaha about “Dr. Laura” (Laura Schlesinger, radio personality).

Dr. Strull pointed out, “Any doctor of psychology who is qualified to treat patients would never make a diagnosis and offer advice after allowing the patient only a minute or two to present their problems.”

True, true, oh so true! The “ouch” is the pain that I share with other psychologists when a radio show host is incorrectly assumed to be a psychologist. The antics of a radio show host “advising” callers who have problems and truly need help is painful to hear for any psychologist. This is doubly true when the callers, listeners, news broadcasters and even physicians such as Dr. Strull think that the radio personality is a psychologist.

“Dr. Laura” does not claim to be a psychologist; she is not licensed to practice psychology, and she is running an entertainment show. Like any other entertainment show, the purpose is to generate a large audience and to make it commercially successful. I presume that she uses the title, “Dr. Laura” because she has a Ph.D. degree in physiology. Since she is giving people personal advice, it is understandable that people assume that “Dr. Laura” means a doctor of psychology. To my knowledge she has never claimed to be a psychologist.

There have been a myriad of radio and television personalities who entertain audiences by delving into the personal problems of people and offering advice. This tradition goes back to the original “Dear Abby” and “Ann Landers” newspaper columns. They entertained their readers with wit and they made astute observations about human nature but they were never mistaken for professional psychologists.

The “Dr. Laura” and “Dr. Phil” formats can be immensely successful as mass media enterprises because we are all naturally fascinated by people and their problems. However, most psychologists would be skeptical of the possibility of successfully entertaining an audience, abandoning the principle of privacy in a counseling or psychotherapeutic relationship and at the same time providing ethical and effective professional services in the field of psychology.

So, when you listen to or watch such shows, remember that it is an entertainment show and by all means, do not use it as a personal guideline to follow in your own life.