Historically, Parent Alienation Syndrome (PAS) has been fairly and unfairly criticized in both judicial and mental health communities. It has been used appropriately and inappropriately by the legal system, and is hotly debated by social movements. Proponents applaud it as a distinctly diagnosable phenomenon and appreciate the clarity it brings to diagnosis and treatment of intra and interfamily dynamics. Critics sometimes go so far as to deny it exists. Some courts have recognized it, while other courts have barred testimony on it. For psychologists, therapists, mediators, custody evaluators, and forensic psychologists who have dealt with the truly stunning behavior of an alienated child, or the sorrow and confusion of a rejected parent, or the characterlogical pathology of a hateful alienating parent, its existence is not in question. Given the large number of children of divorce who are likely to be vulnerable to this problem, there is widespread potential for far-reaching and tragic circumstances for individuals, families, and society. It is plainly apparent that empirical data is much needed and long overdue.
Key Words: divorce, children, parent alienation syndrome, alienated child syndrome
Most therapists have heard of Parent Alienation Syndrome (PAS). There is effort underway to have it recognized in the DSM-V. Many family law attorneys have an understanding of it. Some lawyers use it strategically, asserting or denying it exists to "disprove" legitimate accusations of abuse or to "prove" false accusations of abuse. For those families victimized by it, PAS is nothing short of a tragedy.
To psychologists, therapists, counselors, and mediators who are familiar with and have assisted families caught up in this tragic phenomenon, severe cases are easily identified. There is an observable constellation of hateful behaviors on the part of a child who venomously rejects and directs undeserved anger toward a previously loved parent during or following a separation or divorce. Punishment ideally fits crimes, but in the case of an alienated child, this is not the case. There is no proportionality.
The purpose of this article is to increase awareness of this clinical phenomenon and to help you be able to identify and treat it when it is presented in your office. This article will not address its appropriate use or misuse in the legal community.
Parental alienation and PAS have probably existed for as long as contested divorces have occurred, but they were first identified in professional literature about two decades ago by Wallerstein and Kelly (Kelly & Johnston, 2001).
Wallerstein and Kelly (1980) described a pathological alignment between an angry divorcing parent and his or her child.
In 1985, Richard A. Gardner, MD, further delineated the pathological alignment as occurring between a "brainwashing" parent and a contributing child, and named the phenomenon Parent Alienation Syndrome (PAS). Unfortunately, Gardner is most remembered and criticized for his treatment recommendation that the severely alienated child be removed from the home of the "brainwashing" parent. This has stirred considerable inquiry into whether or not this can be effective without traumatizing the child. Gardner has also been...
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