Recommendations for Dealing with Parents Who Induce a Parental Alienation Syndrome in Their Children
by RICHARD A. GARDNER
ABSTRACT: The parental alienation syndrome is commonly seen in highly contested child-custody disputes. The author has described three types: mild, moderate, and severe$each of which requires special approaches by both legal and mental health professionals. The purpose of this article is to correct some misinterpretations of the author’s recommendations as well as to add some recently developed refinements. Particular focus is given to the transitional-site program that can be extremely useful for dealing with the severe type of parental alienation syndrome. Dealing properly with parental-alienation-syndrome families requires close cooperation between legal and mental health professionals. Without such cooperation therapeutic approaches are not likely to succeed. With such cooperation the treatment, in many cases, is likely to be highly effective.
THE PARENTAL ALIENATION SYNDROME
The parental alienation syndrome (PAS) is a disorder that arises almost exclusively in the context of child-custody disputes. It is a disorder in which children, programmed by the allegedly “loved” parent, embark upon a campaign of denigration of the allegedly “hated” parent. The children exhibit little if any ambivalence over their hatred, which often spreads to the extended family of the allegedly despised parent. Most often mothers are the initiators of such programming, and fathers are the victims of the campaigns of deprecation. However, in a small percentage of cases it is the father who is the primary programmer and the mother who comes to be viewed as the “hated” parent. Furthermore, we are not dealing here with simple “brainwashing” by one parent against the other. The children’s own scenarios of denigration often contribute and complement those promulgated by the programming parent. Accordingly, I introduced the term parental alienation syndrome (PAS) to refer to both of these contributions to the disorder. Because of the children’s cognitive immaturity their scenarios may often appear preposterous to adults. Of course, if the hated parent has genuinely been abusive, then the children’s alienation is warranted and the PAS concept is not applicable.
There are three type of parental alienation syndrome: mild, moderate, and severe. It goes beyond the purposes of this report to describe in full detail the differences between these three types. At this point only a brief summary, however, is important here. In the mild type, the alienation is relatively superficial and the children basically cooperate with visitation, but are intermittently critical and disgruntled. In the moderate type, the alienation is more formidable, the children are more disruptive and disrespectful, and the campaign of denigration may be almost continual. In the severe type, visitation may be impossible, so hostile are the children, hostile even to the point of being physically violent toward the allegedly hated parent. Other forms of acting out may be present, acting out that is designed to cause formidable grief to the parent who is being visited. In many cases the children’s hostility has reached paranoid levels, that is, delusions of persecution and/or fears that they will be murdered in situations where there is absolutely no evidence that such will be the case.