Thursday, June 9, 2011

Parental Alienation Syndrome: Another Alarming DSM-5 Proposal

“Parental Alienation Syndrome:" Another Alarming DSM-5 Proposal

Using a medicalizing label to mask child sexual abuse
by Paula J. Caplan, Ph.D. in Science Isn't Golden

Using a medicalizing label to mask child sexual abuse
Among the scientifically unwarranted and socially dangerous proposals that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-5 authors have not yet seen fit to rule out is the addition of something its advocates call Parental Alienation Syndrome. This is a medical-sounding term for nothing more than "She's a vengeful woman who's trying to make her children tell horrific lies about their father."

When applied to a parent in a case involving an allegation of child sexual abuse, it is nearly always applied to a woman whose child is allegedly being molested by the father. Despite not yet being in the DSM, PAS has in some courts proven an astonishingly effective vehicle for deflecting the focus from the abuser and simply claiming that the woman must be lying, and coaching her children to lie, because she has the alleged mental illness of PAS. [1] The claim is that without cause, she wants to turn the children against their father.

What often gets short shrift, as a result, is even the consideration of the possibility that the children are truly being molested....

The construct of PAS is unscientific, composed of a group of general symptoms with no empirical basis....
Major professional bodies, including the American Psychological Association, have discredited PAS on the grounds that it is misused in domestic violence cases and that there is no scientific evidence of such a "syndrome." The more recent APA Online document Issues and Dilemmas in Family Violence.... particularly Issue 5, describes the tendency of family courts to miminize a context of violence, falsely accusing the mother of alienation and granting custody to the father in spite of his history of violence.

The National Council on Juvenile and Family Court Judges' 2006 manual states that "parental alienation syndrome or PAS has been discredited by the scientific community" and "should therefore be ruled inadmissible" (p. 19). A number of prominent figures, including Dr. Paul J. Fink, past president of the American Psychiatric Association and president of the Leadership Council on Mental Health, Justice, and the Media, and Professor Jon R. Conte of the University of Washington Social Welfare Doctoral Faculty have also discredited PAS and its lack of scientific basis (see Bruch, 2001).

Because of the use of PAS as a tactic by many CSA perpetrators to influence decision makers and the court system, abused children have been placed in the hands of their abusers (Childress, 2006). It is estimated that "over 58,000 children a year are ordered into unsupervised contact with physically or sexually abusive parents following divorce in the United States" ( ) and that PAS was used in a large number of these cases. [2]....
The DSM-5 editors could at any time have already struck PAS from their planned additions but have so far chosen not to.

If this alarms you, and especially if PAS has been used against you, please consider going to before their June 15 cutoff date for input from the public arrives, and send them your concerns. Please urge everyone else you can think of to do the same. The DSM-5 authors will do themselves and the manual's reputation no favors if they include PAS, and they need to hear from people whom the label has harmed.

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