by John M. Grohol, PsyD
September 22, 2012
In a stunning display of
ignorance, researchers attempt to create a mental
diagnosis that can be applied to entire families at
"Parental Alienation Disorder" was denied acceptance
into the psychiatric bible,
the DSM-5 in spite
of "intense lobbying" by supporters. This unofficial
yet bold new disorder occurs to more than one person
at a time.
I guess if you are trying to label as many people
mentally ill as possible, you may as well begin
slapping diagnoses on groups.
'Parental Alienation Disorder' supposedly
happens when parents engage in the common but
unfortunate attempt to alienate children from each
For example, a mother
may complain to her son that his father is a flake
or a loser or a liar. The father may do the same in
return as both parents attempt to win the approval
of the child.
This dynamic is not unusual in families. If
something similar is going on in your family, you
should take measures to correct it.
This is a communication issue, however, not a mental
illness. This pattern that occurs within a family
system involves resentment, immaturity,
shortsightedness and even ignorance. It is an
unfortunate practice, though, not a single mental
illness for a group of people.
However, if you want an expressway to "medicalize"
several people at once, 'Parental Alienation
Disorder' may be the ticket.
In fact, some individuals could conceivably receive
a diagnosis without even stepping foot into a mental
health worker's office!
Sound appealing? If so,
support the American Psychiatric Association and
pharmaceutical companies in their takeover of mental
The trend in the industry, worldwide, is to expand
the market for pharmaceuticals. By increasing the
number and breadth possible medical diagnoses, more
and more people have become mentally ill.
More mentally ill people
more business for Big Pharma
'Parental Alienation Disorder' - the attempt to
expand beyond the typical single person diagnosis -
was a step too far for the DSM-5. The board must
have known how much heat they would take if they
We should be alarmed,
however, that it was even considered.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual
of Mental Disorders (DSM) is the yardstick that mental disorders
are measured against. But every disorder in this reference guide is
meant for individuals, because that’s how doctors diagnose diseases
So it would be ground-breaking if the working groups that are
focused on revising the DSM suddenly decided that a disorder could
be diagnosed not just in an individual, but in a set of people -
such as two people in a particularly unhealthy romantic relationship
(Co-dependency Disorder?) or family (Scapegoating Disorder?).
This is exactly what some folks wanted to do to make their paydays
easier in divorce court.
Thankfully, it appears the working group
charged with reviewing the research in this area and making a
decision for the new draft of the DSM has erred on the side of
keeping to the standard - that we shouldn’t be diagnosing disorders
that aren’t contained within an individual.
"The bottom line - it is not a
disorder within one individual,’’ said Dr. Darrel Regier, vice
chair of the task force drafting the manual. ‘‘It’s a
relationship problem - parent-child or parent-parent.
Relationship problems per se are not mental disorders."
Regier and his APA colleagues have come
under intense pressure from individuals and groups who believe
parental alienation is a serious mental condition that should be
formally recognized in the DSM-5.
They say this step would lead to fairer
outcomes in family courts and enable more children of divorce to get
treatment so they could reconcile with an estranged parent.
Among those on the other side of the debate, which has flared since
the 1980s, are feminists and advocates for battered women who
consider ‘‘parental alienation syndrome’’ to be an unproven and
potentially dangerous concept useful to men trying to deflect
attention from their abusive behavior.
The problem is that there’s very little scientific evidence to
support this disorder; this comes as no surprise when you read the
Dr. William Bernet, a professor
emeritus of psychiatry at the Vanderbilt University School of
Medicine, is editor of a 2010 book making the case that parental
alienation should be recognized in the DSM-5. [...]
Bernet’s proposal to the DSM-5
task force defines parental alienation disorder as,
"a mental condition in which a
child, usually one whose parents are engaged in a high conflict
divorce, allies himself or herself strongly with one parent, and
rejects a relationship with the other parent, without legitimate
What the heck is “legitimate
And who determines what’s
“legitimate” and what’s not?
Isn’t it a child’s right to
align themselves with whomever they’d like, whenever they’d
like, with or without justification?
Since when would that be
considered a disordered behavior ; doesn’t this occur every
day in perfectly healthy marriages?
Talk about a slippery slope that seems
designed to ensure it could be used in whatever way needed in a
After reviewing the evidence, I don’t believe we’re anywhere close
to saying that this sort of triangulated relationship is a
“disorder.” Certainly it’s unhealthy behavior, and certainly it can
be treated if all parties are interested.
Parental alienation disorder is not a recognized mental disorder,
and it’s unlikely to appear in any form in the new DSM-5 coming out
next year - and that’s as it should be.