through raising awareness.



Criticism:  Dr. Richard Gardner, who coined the term "Parental Alienation Syndrome," and who popularized its use in the court system during the 1980's, was a sexist and pedophile-lover.  PAS is just an excuse abusive fathers use so they can continue to abuse their children.

Response: 

  • Regarding pedophilia, Dr. Gardner said, "I believe that pedophilia is a bad thing for society. I do believe, however, that pedophilia, like all other forms of atypical sexuality is part of the human repertoire and that all humans are born with the potential to develop any of the forms of atypical sexuality (which are referred to as paraphilias by DSM-IV). My acknowledgment that a form of behavior is part of the human potential is not an endorsement of that behavior. Rape, murder, sexual sadism, and sexual harassment are all part of the human potential. This does not mean I sanction these abominations."
  • Unfortunately, other statements Dr. Gardner made regarding his approach toward treating pedophilia were, in my opinion, ridiculous. 
  • Having said this, it does not necessarily follow that everything Dr. Gardner said on every other topic is necessarily untrue.  Some of his observations regarding Parental Alienation happened to be spot on.
  • Richard Gardner and Parental Alienation are not one and the same.  The phenomenon was described long before Dr. Gardner, and it has been supported by numerous mental health professionals since.  Numerous articles on the topic have been published in peer-reviewed journals. It is intellectually lazy to criticize a phenomenon by personally attacking one of its supporters. 
  • Although Dr. Gardner's focus was initially on alienating mothers, later in his career he stated that the gender ratio had become closer to 50/50.  This was a result of the increasing popularity of shared custody.  In other words, prior to the 1990's fathers simply did not have the opportunity to become alienators, because primary custody was almost always given to the mother.  Most current experts agree that the ratio is about 50/50.  Parental Alienation is not a gender issue, even if those with a biased agenda try to make it one.
  • Even mentioning the word "pedophile" understandably stirs strong emotions.  This is why some critics of Parental Alienation have tried to create a link between the two.  It's an intellectually dishonest, reprehensible tactic.
  • I am sure that Parental Alienation has been misused in the courts, just as dozens of other phenomena have been misused in the courts. However, the fact that a phenomenon has been misused does not mean that the phenomenon does not exist. Don't judge a concept by its abuses.
  • Abusive fathers exist. Abusive mothers exist. Allegations of abuse must be taken seriously. It is not enough to cry out "Parental Alienation!" whenever a child rejects a parent. There must be a full investigation. Making an error in either direction can have severe consequences.




Criticism:  Parental Alienation Syndrome has not been scientifically validated. It's based on "junk science."

Response:

  • Dr. Gardner's observations were largely anecdotal.  He failed to tie-in his observations with accepted psychological theories.  Furthermore, his work was largely self-published.  For all of these reasons, in addition to the reasons cited above, it is time to move beyond Dr. Gardner's specific paradigm for Parental Alienation.  It is time to drop the term "syndrome" because this has immediate ties to Dr. Gardner's paradigm.
  • Dr. Craig Childress has a newer model for explaining Parental Alienation that is solidly built upon a scientific foundation, including a large body of published literature.  His model takes some of Gardner's  observations and fits them into the larger context of widely accepted psychological theories, including those of personality disorders, family systems models, the attachment system, and developmental trauma.  If you are interested in learning more, Dr. Childress' book, Foundations, An Attachment-Based Model of Parental Alienation, is an excellent resource.



Criticism:  "Parental Alienation" happens in every divorce.  "Badmouthing" happens in every divorce. Stop trying to turn everything into some sort of complicated psychological diagnosis.

Response: 

  • Divorce turns a child's world upside down, and results in profound feelings of sadness, guilt, anxiety, and anger.  Some of this anger may be directed more toward one parent than the other, for a variety of reasons (including badmouthing of that parent by the other parent).  This has been described as mild-moderate "parental alienation." It's common, self-limited, and generally responsive to traditional therapy.
  • Severe Parental Alienation, by contrast, is categorically different from mild-moderate cases. Mild-moderate alienation may result in oppositional-defiant behavior by the child, but it does not result in the complete rejection of the "targeted" parent.  Simple badmouthing is not enough to do this. The parent-child bond is innately very strong and difficult to sever. Another major factor is at work.
  • The other major factor at work in severe cases of Parental Alienation is the personality of the alienating parent.  In severe cases, the alienating parent almost always has traits of borderline/narcissistic personality disorder. It is these traits that drive the alienation dynamic.
  • Full understanding of this dynamic requires an understanding of personality disorders, family systems models, the attachment system, and developmental trauma. In essence, with severe alienation, the child enmeshes with the psychologically unhealthy alienating parent, and rejects the healthy, emotionally-available targeted parent. How this happens is complicated, and it's counter-intuitive. But Parental Alienation is not the only psychological phenomenon like this.
  • Consider the well-known phenomenon whereby kidnap victims bond with their captors, to the point where they actually resist being rescued.  Why would they do this?  It's completely counter-intuitive.  Consider how battered women return to, and even defend their abusive husbands.  Consider the blind allegiance of cult members.  All of these psychological phenomena, just like Parental Alienation, are counter-intuitive. They demand a more complicated explanation.



Criticism:  Children are not that easily manipulated. You don't give them enough credit. If a child rejects a parent, it's probably for a good reason.

Response:  No, offense but have you ever met a child?

  • Children in general are very easily manipulated into believing falsehoods.  Think about how young children are led to believe in the fantastical notions of Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, and the Easter bunny.  Think about how older children are indoctrinated into certain outlandish religious beliefs (not your religion, of course--I'm talking about all the other religions).  Think about how some parents indoctrinate their children with certain sexist and racist beliefs. These are just a few examples of how every child is susceptible to manipulation.
  • Now add into the mix the emotional chaos inherent to every divorce.  And now add into the mix an emotionally unhealthy parent who is obsessed with having that child reject the other parent. Such a child is EXTREMELY susceptible to manipulation.
  • For more information on how the manipulation actually takes place, please read the Parental Alienation 201 section of this website.





Response to Critics