What is Parental Alienation Syndrome ?
The concept of parental alienation syndrome was introduced by Dr. Richard Gardner in the year 1985. He was a clinical professor of psychiatry from the year 1963 to 2003 at Columbia University in the Child Psychiatry division. Dr. Gardner discussed and explained parental alienation syndrome through his article titled ‘Recent Trends in Divorce and Custody Litigation.’ He mentioned that his work with families and children has produced evidence which supports the fact that the syndrome is prominent in extremely litigious court cases, wherein a mentality of ‘end justifies the means’ and ‘destroy all to win’ exists. The work of Dr. Gardner states that the obsessed parent can ultimately program the child to hate the target parent and destroy its relationship with the other parent. This can result in a court win for the programming parent.
Parental alienation syndrome is not admissible in the courts in the UK or in Canada. However, it has been sometimes used in the family courts in the United Sates. It is important to note that the use of parental alienation syndrome in the family courts in the United States is not widespread; is not widely accepted by the judiciary and/or has not set many precedents.
Parental alienation syndrome has not been accepted by any professional organization as a mental condition or a medical syndrome. It is not listed in WHO’s ‘International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems’ or the ‘American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. ‘
Parental Alienation Syndrome – Symptoms
A child may develop parental alienation syndrome when the alienated parent puts in a concerted effort to brainwash or program the child to behave in a hateful way towards the target parent, thereby attaining his/her own vengeful agenda.
The alienating parent may use several ways to vilify the target parent and inculcate a sense of hatred in the child.
- He/she may falsely propagate that the target parent is now sure about not being a part of the child’s life
- He/she may use frivolous, ridiculous or weak arguments to spread hatred and defamation against the target parent
- He/she will encourage the reflexive support of the child during times of conflict, if that support favors them
- He/she may indicate that the child has the right to reject the other parent and that the right is only theirs
- He/she may use of adverse scenarios or phrases of the target parent to provoke the child
- He/she may build a temperament in the child that lacks guilt over the treatment meted out to the target parent
- The vilification may even extend to the family, friends, etc. of the target parent
The alienating parent is generally driven by an extreme desire for control, influence, domination and power. Engaging in parental alienation syndrome can give the alienating parent the dual pleasure of having a hold, influence and control over not only the child but also the target parent, by the use of control methods to explicitly frustrate the target parent’s relationship and visitations with the child. The alienating parent may also use the control that he/she has over the child to taunt and torture the target parent, thereby effectively gaining domination over the other parent
Once the child has been successfully programmed by the alienating parent, then the child will start despising the target parent and consider the vengeful agenda of the alienating parent as its own agenda. This can eventually result in the child becoming an alienator on his/her own way, leading to the development of parental alienation syndrome
The severity levels of parental alienation syndrome will determine the child’s behavior towards the target parent. A child affected by an extreme case of parental alienation syndrome may implicitly believe that all its thoughts and actions against the target parent are its own. This is termed as the ‘independent thinker’ phenomenon by Dr. Gardner.
Such a child will have guiltless disregard for the emotions of the other parent; by default, the child will support the parent with whom she/he has aligned itself and may also engage in hatred for the family and friends of the target parent.
Parental Alienation Syndrome treatment
Many protocols have been developed by Dr. Gardner to reverse alienation. However, a successful treatment for parental alienation syndrome requires the intervention of the court to limit the access of the child by the alienating parent and also to deprogram the child with the aid of a child psychologist.
Children with parental alienation syndrome may lack the ability to make rational choices throughout their lives and will forever be dependent. Hence, its quick treatment is essential.
Additionally such children may experience difficulties in social relationships and develop other psychiatric conditions.
There are three types of parental alienation syndrome as per the severity levels and each type has its own treatment method. They include:
- Mild type of parental alienation syndrome may result in some programming of the child by may not adversely affect the visitations. In this, the parents have to be educated about the harmful effects of parental alienation syndrome on the child
- Moderate type of parental alienation syndrome may result in programming as well as difficulties for the child during visitations. The affected child may suffer from the need to protect and fight for the alienating parent and at the same time struggle with itself to be not extremely denigrating of the target parent. Court intervention is necessary to treat such cases.
- Severe type of parental alienation syndrome will result in complete loss of regard by the child towards the target parent as well as his/her family members. The child can develop serious psychiatric disorders. In such a case, the child has to be placed in the care of the alienated parent and a child psychologist is needed to treat the condition.