Real living: Caught on the couch

Once you know a bit about her therapist, you'll know a whole lot more about Monica Lewinsky. Ruth Morris reports
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Indy Lifestyle Online
BACK IN JANUARY, when all was still conjecture and denial, a Los Angeles TV station owned by Rupert Murdoch landed a scoop and unwittingly threw it back. It was an interview with a local pop psychologist, Dr Irene Kassoria, about the newly uncovered Monica Lewinsky. "How many 21-year-olds Dr Kassoria asked: 'Would resist if the president of the United States tapped on their vaginas and said 'How about it?'"

What no one realised at the time was that this was not a question but an explanation. For, as the Starr report has revealed, Dr Kassoria was the quiet voice in Ms Lewinsky's ear during the dark and dirty doings in the Oval Office. And, as her shrink, she could show, but not tell.

Until recently, Dr Kassoria has been regarded in the same way as her books; that is, somewhat out of print. Her various tomes include Go For It! (1984), Pump Up Your Ego (audiocassette, 1986) and the slightly best- selling Nice Girls Do and Now You Can Too! (1983).

But Dr Kassoria, PhD University of London, managed to get by. She lived - and still does - with her computer tycoon husband Norman Friedman, behind 14ft gates on the site of Jack Benny's home in fancy Holmby Hills. The practice also ticks along nicely. There are enough troubled celebrities for Dr Kassoria to borrow an endorsement from the minor comedian Merv Griffin in her promotional material - Shrink to the Stars.

These were the circumstances in which Marcia Lewis called Dr Kassoria, over six years ago now, to seek professional help for her daughter, Monica. Ms Lewis, something of a celebrity truffle-hound herself, was going through a messy divorce with Dr Bernard Lewinsky and was worried about the effect on her little one.

In particular, there seems to have been an incident when Monica lost a parking space she had been waiting 15 minutes for. Then a student at Santa Monica College, she arrived home streaked in mascara and sobbing so wretchedly that mom reached at once for the Yellow Pages.

They meet at intervals, for the next five years. Ms Lewinsky recovered her equilibrium, graduated from Lewis and Clark College, in Oregon, and made her way to the White House as an intern. Dr Kassoria filed away her case notes under Monica Lewis, presumably because mom was paying the bills.

The official records show that Kenneth Starr caught up with Dr Kassoria at the end of August in the offices of her lawyer at Century City Park, Los Angeles. The doctor had hired two other attorneys, including one from Washington. She asked that the proceedings not be made public, and was told by Starr's office that this might not be possible. Starr did black out her age - she is generally thought to be in her early sixties.

Under questioning, Dr Kassoria revealed that she had advised Ms Lewinsky against her affair with the President. "Kassoria was shocked and surprised at the relationship," the Starr report says, "but believed Lewinsky, 'to be truthful from the start'."

Later on, says the testimony: "Kassoria advised Lewinsky on multiple occasions that she was an employee having an office romance with a superior, that she would ultimately lose her job and would have bad references for future jobs. Kassoria tried to prepare Lewinsky for the desperate ego blow that would result when she would be fired to protect the President." At an early stage, doctor and patient agreed to refer to the President only as "Elizabeth" on the phone and call him a her.

What quality of advice did the doctor give, though? Some of it was practical. She suggested locking the doors during their sexual encounters to avoid discovery. She listened to a message on Ms Lewinsky's answerphone and concluded that the male voice declaring that "law shucks" was President Clinton's. She tried hard to sell the transfer to the Pentagon as a promotion rather than a demotion. And she told Starr that the affair probably helped Lewinsky's problems with self-esteem and self-confidence.

But you can see that the message from Kassoria's books might cause some confusion in a young girl's mind. Their titles alone suggest the sort of predatory enthusiasm that American womanhood now sees as its birthright. What else was Monica doing but Going For It! when she hitched up her blouse to reveal her thong panties to the President? And what else could you say about her use of a cigar except Nice Girls Do?

Dr Kassoria has refused in public to admit that Ms Lewinsky was a patient, and her lawyers have cautioned against inferring too much from her published works, saying: "Implications that can be drawn from Nice Girls Do are not correct". Her lawyer also refutes a quote attributed in the US publication, Weekly Standard, in March - again before her role in the drama was known - when she described the President as "cute" and added, "If he and I did it we'd have to have penetration. I'd insist."

Perhaps Dr Kassoria has been wrong-footed in the collision between her dual identity as practising psychologist and media sex doc. As the latter, she has certainly established herself as one of the pioneers in that field, predating even the venerable Dr Ruth Westheimer (one colleague recently said very breathlessly that, "she way preceded her"). And she has even won a prize from the Italian government in the Eighties for her work as a sex therapist.

"Practice does make perfect, especially in sex," she wrote in an extract from one of her books, which was recently used by a company which makes vibrators. "Like any other 'activity', sex is a skill that has to be learned, practised and honed to precision. Nice Girls Do is a guide to achieving the 'maxi-orgasm'" by not giving a stuff what anyone else thinks. Dr Kassoria recommends a programme of muscle-tightening Kagel exercises and bubble bath to discover the inner "erotic child". Go for It! takes a slightly different tack, dividing the world into winners who grab what they want through aggressive self-promotion and nice, non-confrontational losers.

It is easy to conclude that Ms Lewinsky may have dipped a little too readily into these pages. Dr Kassoria's lawyers would again advise caution. "She does not condone or advocate extramarital affairs," they say. "She thinks they are wrong". Ms Lewinsky and the doctor have not met since June last year. But their parting does not spell the end of the affair. The house in Holmby Hills, with its five kitchens, reflecting pool and parking for 50 cars, went on the market earlier this month for $18.5m with reports that the couple are planning to buy a home in Italy.

Meanwhile, a New York magazine announced last week that Dr Kassoria had found a literary agent in New York. He is David Vigliano, who by coincidence - or perhaps not - also represents Monica's mother. And she is writing as prolifically as ever. There are two new books on the way - one a memoir of her training with catatonic adults, the other a self-help guide for women.

Dr Kassoria, in other words, might be said to have Gone For It!

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