Defending Dr. Laura
Are Hal Arkowitz and Scott O. Lilienfeld serious when they infer that Dr. Laura’s and Dr. Phil’s callers and guests have “psychological problems?” Of course, such problems cannot be “changed by simple directives.” But to conclude their column [Facts and Fictions in Mental Health] with that blanket statement is to infer that the two are practicing psychology without a license, as opposed to helping housewives and students (like myself) by utilizing their life experiences and opinions.
I find many faults with this article. One is the criticism leveled at Dr. Laura for not spending enough time with her callers. Obviously she finds it impractical to host only three guests during her three hour show, so she instead chooses to interact with several callers during her allotted broadcast time. In doing so, her millions of listeners are given the chance to hear her personal advice on several real-world situations.
Her trademark “lack of empathy,” though perhaps not as helpful to the individual caller as the authors would like, illustrates problems and advice to listeners who are helped by the back and forth. In my opinion, Dr. Laura’s directness with her callers is probably more helpful to those listeners than if she were indirect and more reassuring.
Dr. Laura also knows her limits and routinely advises callers on air that she cannot help them when they present her with a problem beyond her training and knowledge.
THE AUTHORS REPLY: McDaniel’s comment implies that people who call in to Dr. Laura’s show do not suffer from psychological problems; however, the main reason for their calls is to seek help for marital and relationship difficulties, child abuse, domestic violence, eating disorders, and the like.
The reader argues that it would be “impractical” for Dr. Laura to spend more time with each caller given that she wants her listeners to hear her advice concerning many different problems. But Dr. Laura has chosen to spend little time with callers and, by doing so, offers strongly worded advice based on minimal information about callers and their problems. As a result, callers and listeners may come away from the show with the false impression that there are simple and easy solutions to their complex life difficulties and may end up feeling guilty or hopeless, or both, if these “solutions” fail.
McDaniel falls victim to the very trap we cautioned readers against, namely, assuming that advice can only be helpful. As we noted, research suggests that advice given in a very directive way that is low in empathy is unlikely to be helpful and may even be harmful. Without systematic follow-ups of callers, there is no way to know whether Dr. Laura has helped or harmed her listeners.
Setting the Record Straight
What a kick to have my book The Twenty-four Hour Mind reviewed in the September/October issue, especially alongside the excellent Charlie Rose brain series. I was not happy, however, to see some errors and misunderstandings in my review.
In the very first sentence, a strong finding that short sleep in humans leads to increased appetite, weight gain and higher rates of obesity is linked to results of an acute study of total sleep deprivation in rats. In that study three weeks of loss of total sleep was followed by rapid, untimely death. Luckily, humans are not rats, and readers will note the statement in the review that “less than six hours of sleep can lead to obesity and even death” mixes species.
Furthermore, the reviewer misunderstands the weight of evidence now supporting two psychological functions of sleep: the consolidation of new learning in long-term memory and mood regulation in dreams. These are no longer “hypotheses” about which sleep researchers disagree. They are both based on many well-designed studies by many different investigators.