The discussion of parental alienation has taken a step forward with the publication of three books and positive reviews of same in the prestigious Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
By far the weightiest of the three is the book aimed at the mental health profession that’s edited by Dr. William Bernet of Vanderbilt University. It gathers articles and commentary from 70 mental health researchers and practitioners worldwide as well as citations to some 630 articles on the subject. As such, Parental Alienation, DSM-5 and ICD-11 is the most impressive publication to date arguing for recognition of parental alienation as a treatable condition or disorder by mental health professionals. (The ICD is the International Classification of Diseases of the World Health Organization. It’s currently in its tenth edition.)
In her review of the book, Dr. Gabrielle Shapiro, M.D. gives a hint of her professional revelation of parental alienation.
During my training in child and adolescent psychiatry, the concept of parental alienation was a subject of great contention and debate, one that elicited strong affect-laden responses in many of my mentors similar to those prompted by multiple personality disorder. Truthfully, it was only after working for many years performing custody evaluations that I began to “buy into” the diagnosis, recognizing not only its existence, but also its devastating and long-lasting impact on the development and attachments of children who are victims of high-conflict divorce.
In short, exposure to children embroiled in custody cases made Shapiro see the reality of parental alienation. My guess is that the debate about parental alienation would move a lot faster if more of those opining on the subject followed in Shapiro’s footsteps.
Shapiro notes that parental alienation of children,
can lead to severe lifelong pathologic consequences for the child who has lost the reciprocal nurturing relationship with one of his primary attachment figures. Often these dysfunctional relationship patterns persist throughout a lifetime, despite the best of therapeutic interventions. The text makes the argument that parental alienation is not just a temporary symptom in the divorced family, but a disorder that deserves a psychiatric diagnosis.
So, according to mental health professionals who have studied parental alienation and the literature on it, PA is abusive to children. It can have profound effects throughout the person’s life. Courts should (and many do) give evidence of parental alienation their full attention and when it appears, move aggressively to stop it via their contempt power and their ability to alter custody arrangements.
One of the frequent claims made by those opposed to courts admitting evidence of parental alienation is that the concept was developed by Dr. Richard Gardner. That’s largely because Gardner makes an easy target; he’s dead and therefore can be libeled with legal impunity, and that’s just what they do.
But Bernet’s book points out that in fact there were not one but six people working independently of each other back in the 1980s who developed the concept of parental alienation of children. Needless to say, the other five aren’t mentioned by the anti-dad crowd because, unlike Gardner, they can’t be easily defamed. Their approach is to try to make the term ‘parental alienation’ synonymous with ‘Richard Gardner’ about whom they can then lie without fear of legal sanction.
Parental Alienation, DSM-5 and ICD-11 offers a compelling and compassionate argument for the inclusion of the diagnosis in the DSM-5 and ICD-11. The relational context in which our patients navigate their lives is rooted in their primary attachment relationships; focusing on only individual psychopathologies is an injustice to our discipline because it eliminates the importance of development and how adjustment and maladjustment of our primary attachment relationships can affect individuals and create pathology throughout their lives. Bernet’s Parental Alienation, DSM-5, and ICD-11 should bring closure to the debate about the validity of the diagnosis of parental alienation and, I hope, pave the way for further research and for the development of new evidence-based treatments.
The second book reviewed by the Journal is less of a scientific treatise and more of a narrative of one man’s experience of parental alienation at the hands of his ex-wife. But it’s more than that. The narrative is that of Michael Jeffries who kept a meticulous journal of his own alienation from his children. But about half of it consists of observations by his own psychotherapist, Dr. Joel Davies.
So A Family’s Heartbreak: A Parent’s Introduction to Parental Alienation gives a kind of stereoscopic view of the matter. It’s part personal story, part scientific analysis. Of course, as the reviewer points out, it’s only one man’s story, and his alienating wife’s side is never told. Still, the reviewer recommends it exactly because the book shows the agony of the target as well as a clinician’s view of the parental alienation.
The third book reviewed is a novel about parental alienation and should of course be read as such. The characters are fictional as is the action of the book and therefore, the work provides little of scientific interest, but may serve to put the reader “in the shoes” of an alienated parent.