The Parental Alienation Syndrome

The Parental Alienation Syndrome has been described in 1985 by Richard Gardner, a child psyhologist. Although it is based on his clinical experience, it is lacking a scientific basis. As a consequence, the syndrome is not recognized as a disorder. Not by the medical world nor by legal institutions.

In May 2013, the DSM-5 has been published. The DSM-5 is the 5th version of the American Psychiatric Association's (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The DSM lists and describes all the officially recognized phychological disorders. Contrary to what supporters of the Parental Alientation Syndrom had hoped for, it has not been listed. Probably because the agruments to list PAS are mostly legal and less medical.

However, there are several things to learn from Richard Gardners observations.

Description of PAS

The syndrome is found in children of divorce. Divorces go hand in hand with conflict and in high conflict divorces children might get involved. Children suffer from the Parental Alienation Syndrome if they frequently talk and think in a negative way about one parent without having a real reason for it.

Furthermore, additional symptoms might surface. These children:

  • use all kind of unfunded explanations for their rejection and hatred
  • clearly choose for one of their parent and dislike the other
  • are convinced that their rejection of the parent is their own decision
  • strongly support their favorite parent in the conflict
  • do not care about whether they hurt their other parent with their attitude and behaviour or not
  • think that not only the alienated parent, but also his or her friends and family are bad

Causes of the Parental Alienation Syndrome

Child custody disagreements seem to be the main cause of the Parental Alienation Syndrome. Especially when one parent tries to alienate the child from the other parent.

Treatment proposed by Gardner.

In mild cases the visitation of the disliked parent must continue undisturbed and undisrupted. The child continues to visit the disliked ot hated parent according to the agreed visitation schedule.

In moderate cases, there are 2 possible situations.
1) the custodial parent is expected to stop the brainwashing. Here, the situation can be left unchanged, but the behaviour of the custodial parent must be monitored.
2) the custodial parent is not going to stop the brainwashing of his child. Garder proposes to move the child to the alienated partner. This way, the child will be away from the negative brainwashing.

Additionally to both situations, Gardner recommends therapy to stop the alienation and to rebuild the relationship with the hated parent.

In severe cases of the syndrome children display many of the above mentioned symptoms. Often, these children refuse to visit their hated father or mother. They might even threaten with running away or committing suicide. Originally, Gardner proposed unconventional and aggressive strategies to deal with these case like court order transfers, fines or even emprisonment. Later on, he reconsidered and changed the proposed approach.

Consternation and Disagreement

At the beginning, controversial situations arose. At that time, Gardner concluded that 90% of the cases were due to women who tried consciously or inconsciously to alienate their children from their father. This statement was supported by the groups that represented the rights of fathers. Of course, they tried to use these findings to their advantage. Later in time, Gardner softened and changed his conclusions and recommendations.

The alienation syndrome has been used by the divorce lawyers of those being accused of the conflict or abuse. They argued that the mothers told bad stories about their ex husbands just to alienate their children from their fathers. The fact that a violent or abusive parent could gain custody rights based on parental alienation syndrome, raised many concerns.

Although the alienation syndrome has not been recognised as a real syndrome or disorder, the phenomenon exists as many practical cases show. Parental Alienation (but not as a the syndrome) has been accepted as being a unwanted situation for both children and their parents.

Parental Alienation has many different definitions. Psychologists cannot reach an agreement, but there is moderate support for the existance of it.