"THE PARENTAL ALIENATION SYNDROME DOES NOT EXIST BECAUSE IT IS NOT IN DSM-IV"
There are some, especially adversaries in child-custody disputes, who claim that there is no such entity as the PAS, that it is only a theory, or that it is "Gardner’s theory." Some claim that I invented the PAS, with the implication that it is merely a figment of my imagination. The main argument given to justify this position is that it does not appear in DSM-IV. The DSM committees justifiably are quite conservative with regard to the inclusion of newly described clinical phenomena and require many years of research and publications before considering inclusion of a disorder, and this is as it should be. The PAS exists! Any lawyer involved in child-custody disputes will attest to that fact. Mental health and legal professionals involved in such disputes must be observing it. They may not wish to recognize it. They may give it another name (like "parental alienation"). But that does not preclude its existence. A tree exists as a tree regardless of the reactions of those looking at it. A tree still exists even though some might give it another name. If a dictionary selectively decides to omit the word tree from its compilation of words, that does not mean that the tree does not exist. It only means that the people who wrote that book decided not to include that particular word. Similarly, for someone to look at a tree and say that the tree does not exist does not cause the tree to evaporate. It only indicates that the viewer, for whatever reason, does not wish to see what is right in front of him (her). To refer to the PAS as "a theory" or "Gardner’s theory" implies the nonexistence of the disorder. It implies that it is a figment of my imagination and has no basis in reality. To say that PAS does not exist because it is not listed in DSM-IV is like saying in 1980 that AIDS does not exist because it is not listed in standard diagnostic medical textbooks. The PAS is not a theory, it is a fact. My ideas about its etiology and psychodynamics might very well be called theory. The crucial question then is whether my theory regarding the etiology and psychodynamics of the PAS is reasonable, and whether my ideas fit in with the facts. This is something for the readers of this book to decide.
But why this controversy in the first place? With regard to whether PAS exists, we generally do not see such controversy regarding most other clinical entities in psychiatry. Examiners may have different opinions regarding the etiology and treatment of a particular psychiatric disorder, but there is usually some consensus about its existence. And this should especially be the case for a relatively "pure" disorder such as the PAS, a disorder that is easily diagnosable because of the similarity of the children’s symptoms when one compares one family with another. Over the years, I have received many letters from people who have essentially said: "Your PAS book is uncanny. You don’t know me and yet I felt that I was reading my own family’s biography. You wrote your book before all this trouble started in my family. It’s almost like you predicted what would happen." Why, then, should there be such controversy over whether or not PAS exists?
One explanation lies in the situation in which the PAS emerges and in which the diagnosis is made: vicious child-custody litigation. Once an issue is brought before a court of law—in the context of adversarial proceedings—it behooves one side to take just the opposite position from the other, if one is to prevail in that forum. A parent accused of inducing a PAS in a child is likely to engage the services of a lawyer who may invoke the argument that there is no such thing as a PAS. And if this lawyer can demonstrate that the PAS is not listed in DSM-IV, then the position is considered "proven." The only thing this proves to me is that DSM-IV has not yet listed the PAS. It also proves the low levels to which members of the legal profession will stoop in order to zealously support their client’s position, no matter how ludicrous their arguments and how destructive they are to the children.
An important factor operative in the PAS not being listed in DSM-IV relates to political issues. Things that are "hot" and "controversial" are not likely to get the consensus that more neutral issues enjoy. As I will elaborate upon below, the PAS has been dragged into the political-sexual arena, and those who would support its inclusion in DSM-IV are likely to find themselves embroiled in vicious controversy and the object of scorn, rejection, and derision. The easier path, then, is to avoid involving oneself in such inflammatory conflicts, even if it means omitting from DSM one of the more common childhood disorders.
The PAS is a relatively discrete disorder and is more easily diagnosed than many of the other disorders in DSM-IV. At this point, articles are coming forth and it is being increasingly cited in court rulings. Articles about PAS in the scientific literature will be cited throughout the course of this book. Court rulings in which the PAS is cited are also appearing with increasing frequency. I continue to list these on my website as they appear (http://www.rgardner.com/refs). My hope is that by the time committees are formed for the preparation of DSM-V, the committee(s) evaluating for inclusion will see fit to include the PAS and have the courage to withstand those holdouts who, for whatever reason, need to deny the reality of the world. It may interest the reader to note that if PAS is ultimately included in the DSM, its name will be changed to include the term disorder, the current label utilized for psychiatric illnesses that warrant inclusion. It might very well have its name changed to parental alienation disorder.
Richard A. Gardner, M.D.