Parental Alienation: A Mental Diagnosis?
Some experts say the extreme hatred some kids feel toward a parent in a divorce is a mental illness
U.S. News & World Report, By Lindsay Lyon, October 29, 2009
From an early age, Anne was taught by her mother to fear her father. Behind his back, her mom warned that he was unpredictable and dangerous; any time he'd invite her to do anything-a walk in the woods, a trip to the art store-she would craft an excuse not to go. "I was under the impression that he was crazy, that at any moment he could just pop and do something violent to hurt me," says Anne, who prefers that only her middle name be used to guard her family's privacy. Typical of a phenomenon some mental-health experts now label "parental alienation," her view of him became so negative, she says, that her mother persuaded her to lie during a custody hearing when the couple divorced. Then 14, she told the judge that her dad was physically abusive. Was he? "No," she says. "But I was convinced that he would [be]." After her mother won custody, Anne all but severed contact with her father for years.
If a growing faction of the mental-health community has its way, Anne's experience will one day soon be an actual diagnosis. The concept of parental alienation, which is highly controversial, is being described as one in which children strongly attach to one parent and reject the other in the false belief that he or she is bad or dangerous. "It's heartbreaking," says William Bernet, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and professor at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, "to have your 10-year-old suddenly, in a matter of weeks, go from loving you and hiking with you...to saying you're a horrible, ugly person." These aren't kids who simply prefer one parent over the other, he says. That's normal. These kids doggedly resist contact with a parent, sometimes permanently, out of an irrational hate or fear.
Bernet is leading an effort to add "parental alienation" to the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the American Psychiatric Association's "bible" of diagnoses, scheduled for 2012. He and some 50 contributing authors from 10 countries will make their case in the American Journal of Family Therapy early next year. Inclusion, says Bernet, would spur insurance coverage, stimulate more systematic research, lend credence to a charge of parental alienation in court, and raise the odds that children would get timely treatment.
But many experts balk at labeling the phenomenon an official disorder. "I really get concerned about spreading the definition of mental illness too wide," says Elissa Benedek, a child and adolescent psychiatrist in Ann Arbor, Mich., and a past president of the APA. There's no question in her mind that kids become alienated from a loving parent in many divorces with little or no justification, and she's seen plenty of kids kick and scream all the way to the car when visitation is enforced. But, she says, "this is not a mentally ill child."
The phenomenon has been described for many decades, but it became a cause cÃ©lÃ¨bre in 1985, when Richard Gardner, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, coined the term "parental alienation syndrome." As more dads fought fiercely for joint custody, he observed a surge in the number of children suffering from a distinct cluster of symptoms, including a "campaign of denigration" against one parent that sometimes included a false sex-abuse accusation and automatic parroting of the other parent's views.
But sound research supporting a medical label is scant, critics say. The American Psychological Association has issued a statement that "there is no evidence within the psychological literature of a diagnosable parental alienation syndrome." What's more as concern has grown that "PAS" could be invoked by an abusive parent to gain rights to a child who has good reason to refuse contact, says Janet Johnston, a clinical sociologist and justice studies professor at San Jose State University who has studied parental alienation. In teens, she notes, parental rejection might be a developmentally normal response. Anecdotal reports have surfaced that some kids labeled as "alienated" have become suicidal when courts have ordered a change of custody to the "hated" parent, she says.
In any case, divorcing parents should be aware that hostilities may seriously harm the kids. Sometimes manipulation is blatant, as with parents who conceal phone calls, gifts, or letters, then use the "lack of contact" as proof that the other parent doesn't love the child. Sometimes the influence is Read More ..btle ("I'm sure nothing bad will happen to you at Mommy's house") or even unintentional ("I've put a cellphone in your suitcase. Call when everyone's asleep to tell me you're OK"). It's important to shield kids from harmful communication, says Richard Warshak, a clinical professor of psychology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and author of Divorce Poison. If something potentially upsetting about an ex must be conveyed, he advises imagining how you would have handled the conversation while happily married; how would you have explained Mom's depression, say?
"The long-term implications [of alienation] are pretty severe," says Amy Baker, director of research at the Vincent J. Fontana Center for Child Protection in New York and a contributing author of Bernet's proposal. In a study culminating in a 2007 book, Adult Children of Parental Alienation Syndrome, she interviewed 40 "survivors" and found that many were depressed, guilt ridden, and filled with self-loathing. Kids develop identity through relationships with both their parents, she says. When they are told one is no good, they believe, "I'm half no good."
Now 23, divorced, and a parent herself, Anne has recognized only recently that she was manipulated, that her long-held view of her father isn't accurate. They live 2,000 miles apart but now try to speak daily. "I've missed out on a great friendship with my dad," she says. "It hurts."
May 7, 2007
Many celebrities would shrink from view after a PR nightmare like Alec Baldwin's leaked voice mail in which he calls his 11-year-old daughter, Ireland, a "rude, thoughtless little pig." But Baldwin wants to use the media scrutiny to give exposure to parental alienation, the controversial "syndrome" caused by one parent's systematically damaging a child's relationship with the other parent.
B.C. judge bars mother from seeing daughter
Court orders one-year ban after 'unfounded' abuse allegations made about teenager's father
THE CANADIAN PRESS
March 10, 2009
VANCOUVER - In a case of extreme parental alienation, a mother has been banned by a B.C. Supreme Court judge from seeing her teenage daughter for more than a year.
Because of the urgency of the matter, Justice Donna Martinson issued the terse, two-page ruling outlining 15 conditions the parents must follow, including that the mother, known only as Ms. A, not see her daughter until at least March 31, 2010.
The decision came after the mother alleged extreme emotional abuse by the father, which she claimed was putting the teenager's safety at risk.
"I am satisfied that Ms. A's allegations are unfounded," Martinson wrote.
"I am further satisfied that she has continued to undermine the relationship between M and her father and has acted in ways that are detrimental to M's psychological healing."
Names have been stripped from the court ruling to protect the girl's identity.
The judge has ordered that both the mother and maternal grandmother have no contact with the girl, which would be enforced by police if necessary.
The New York Times, New York city, U.S.A. August 8, 2004
Not too long ago, Jacqueline Scott Sheid was a pretty typical Upper East Side mother. Divorced and with a young daughter, she had quickly remarried, borne a son, and interrupted her career to stay home with the children while her husband, Xavier Sheid, worked on Wall Street.
Early last year, Mr. Sheid lost his job and saw his only career opportunity in California. But Ms. Sheid's ex-husband, who shares joint legal custody of their daughter, refused to allow the girl to move away. So Ms. Sheid has spent much of the last year using JetBlue to shuttle between her son and husband on the West Coast and her daughter (and ex) on the East.
The New York court system, which she hoped would help her family to resolve the problem, has cost her tens of thousands of dollars in fees for court-appointed experts, she said, and has helped to prolong the process by objecting to her choice of lawyers.
PSYCHOLOGY: MIND GAMES
Some victims of parental alienation syndrome don't realize until adulthood that one parent turned them against the other
The Globe and Mail
March 24, 2009
After Joe Rabiega's parents divorced, when he was an adolescent, his father repeatedly told him his mother had abandoned him. The boy had to return any gifts that came from his mother's side of the family and, twice daily, he had to pledge his allegiance to his father.
"I was never allowed to have anything to do with her," he says from his home in Raleigh, N.C. "The consequences were dire if I did. He said I would have nobody."
Even though Mr. Rabiega, now 33, had witnessed ugly behaviour by his father toward his mother and knew his dad to be an erratic alcoholic, it wasn't until he sought counselling for personal problems in his early 20s that his past snapped into focus: He had been the victim of parental alienation syndrome - his father had systematically turned him against his mother.
The phenomenon, coined by psychiatrist Richard A. Gardner in 1985, has gained traction recently due to a number of recent high-profile divorce cases in Canada - not to mention the very public case of movie star Alec Baldwin, who accused his former wife, Kim Basinger, of parental alienation. Read More ..
WHAT IS IT?
The Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) is the systematic denigration by one parent by the other with the intent of alienating the child against the other parent. The purpose of alienation is usually to gain or retain custody without the involvement of the non-custodial parent (NCP) The alienation usually extends to the NCP's family and friends as well. Though this document is written with the father in mind, it must be clear that there are many cases of PAS where the NCP is the mother, and PAS from the non-custodial mothers' viewpoint will be discussed later.
Dr. Richard Gardner in his book 'The Parental Alienation Syndrome' states (p. 74) "Many of these children proudly state that their decision to reject their fathers is their own.";
They deny any contribution from their mothers. And the mothers often support this vehemently. In fact, the mothers will often state that they want the child to visit with the father and recognise the importance of such involvement, yet such a mothers every act indicates otherwise.
Such children appreciate that, by stating the decision is their own, they assuage mother's guilt and protect her from criticism. Such professions of independent thinking are supported by the mother who will often praise these children for being the kind of people who have minds of their own and are forthright and brave enough to express overtly their opinions.
Frequently, such mothers will exhort their children to tell them the truth regarding whether or not they really want to see their fathers. The child will usually appreciate that "the truth" is the profession that they hate the father and do not want to see him ever again. They thereby provide that answer - couched as "the truth" - which will protect them from their mother's anger if they were to state what they really wanted to do, which is to see their fathers.
It is important for the reader to appreciate that after a period of programming the child may not know what is the truth any Read More ..d come to actually believe that the father deserves the vilification being directed against him. The end point of the brainwashing process has then been achieved. Read More ..