Rebuttal to Kelly and Johnston's Article
Original article: Kelly, J.B. and Johnston, J.R. (2001), A Reformulation of Parental Alienation Syndrome. Family Court Review, 39(3):249-266.
The Children’s Rights Council in Washington D.C. excerpted the article and invited me to write a response. This was published in their journal:
Children Speak Out for Children, 17(2): 5-10, 2002. Reproduced here is my response.
My primary reaction to the Kelly/Johnston article was that the authors do not appreciate that if the notions they promote in this article are taken seriously, they are contributing significantly to the weakening of women’s positions in courts of law. By denying and/or discrediting the PAS, they are depriving mothers who are victims of their husband’s PAS indoctrinations (an increasingly frequent phenomenon) of the most powerful weapon they can possibly use in a court of law to defend themselves. The husband’s lawyer, almost invariably, welcomes any opportunity to discredit the PAS and argue before the court: "Your honor, everyone agrees that these children are alienated. All you have to do is listen to the children, and it will be obvious that they are alienated from their mother because of her neglect and abuse. The mother is claiming that she is the victim of the father’s PAS indoctrinations. Your honor, PAS is a discredited and defunct theory. Here is an article by Kelly and Johnston that confirms this." The mother and her lawyer recognize that if the court "buys in" to the father’s lawyer’s arguments, the court will not then take seriously the mother’s claim that the father is a PAS indoctrinator, will "believe the children," and possibly deprive her of primary custody. I will come back to this important and crucial point.
The authors state that I have written that the indoctrinating parent is usually the mother. This was certainly the case during the 1980s and well into the 1990s. However, in the last few years I have noted a gender shift, so that at this point I consider fathers and mothers to be equal with regard to the number of cases in which parents are alienators.
In the section entitled, "Criticisms of the PAS," the authors suggest that I am not aware of the multiplicity of other factors that can bring about alienation between children and parents. This statement has absolutely nothing to do with reality. Prior to my first publication on the PAS in 1985, I wrote extensively about the various kinds of family problems that could result in children’s becoming alienated from a parent. PAS is just one subtype of parental alienation, a subtype that involves an alienating parent’s programming a child into a campaign of denigration against the other parent, who is usually loving and dedicated.
The authors lead the reader to believe that the PAS is not to be found in DSM-IV (1994) because "there is no commonly recognized or empirically versified pathogenesis, course, familial pattern, or treatment selection." First, PAS is not to be found in the 1994 edition of DSM-IV because, at the time it was being prepared (1990-1993), there were too few articles in the scientific literature to justify a submission. Their statement implies a submission and rejection; there was never even a submission. The DSM-V is scheduled for publication in 2010. Committees are scheduled to start meeting in 2003. At this point, I have lists of 135 articles (by over 150 authors) on the PAS in peer-review journals and 65 citations from courts of law in which the PAS has been recognized. Furthermore, in November 2000, after a Frye Test hearing, a court of law in Florida concluded that PAS has received such widespread acceptance in the scientific community that it warrants recognition in courts of law (Kilgore v. Boyd). This ruling was subsequently upheld by a Florida Court of Appeals (Boyd v. Kilgore). These lists are being continually updated on my website (). These lists of peer-reviewed articles and legal citations will be included when a submission on the PAS is proposed to the DSM-V committee.
The authors state:
"If PAS is considered a ‘grouping of signs and symptoms, based on their frequent co-occurrence,’ it should be considered a nondiagnostic syndrome, but this sheds no light on cause, prognosis, and treatment of these behaviors."
PAS well satisfies the syndrome requirement that it is a "grouping of signs and symptoms, based on their frequent co-occurrence." This is what makes it diagnostic. One makes a diagnosis on the basis of the frequently occurring cluster of symptoms. The term "nondiagnostic syndrome" is mutually contradictory to the point of being almost meaningless. A syndrome is used to make a proper diagnosis. If the PAS cluster is not a syndrome, then it cannot be used to make a diagnosis. Accordingly, there is no such thing as a nondiagnostic syndrome. It does not speak well of the authors to use an oxymoron in a scientific paper.
The authors claim that the PAS sheds no light on cause, prognosis, and treatment. It is not necessary for the name of a disorder—whether it be a syndrome or any other label for the disorder—to shed light on the cause, prognosis, and treatment of the disorder. Down’s Syndrome is a syndrome, yet its genetic cause was not discovered until many years after its description. We still have no treatment for it. That does not preclude the fact that it is a syndrome. A syndrome is not defined by elucidation of its cause, prognosis, and treatment, but on the basis of the cluster of symptoms that appear together. The vast majority of disorders listed in DSM-IV are syndromes and were once labeled as such prior to their inclusion. For example, Tourette’s Syndrome, when accepted into DSM-III, became Tourette’s Disorder. Inclusion in DSM-IV does not require knowledge of cause, prognosis, and treatment. Obviously, these are important considerations, but are of concern after one has made the proper diagnosis. My books and articles on the PAS deal in depth with causes, prognosis, and treatment (Gardner, 1992, 1998, 2001).
The authors continue: "Hence, the term PAS does not add any information that would enlighten the court, the clinician, or their clients.…" My experience has been just the opposite. The PAS diagnosis, being one cause of parental alienation, can be very useful to the court. Of all the sources of parental alienation, it is one that directs attention to the programmer. It makes the court’s job easier when this particular subtype of parental alienation is identified. I am sure the authors would agree that it is better to use the term "myocardial infarction," rather than "heart disease" (which is the diagnosis doctors made prior to the late 19th century). The history of medicine and science is the history of progressively greater refinements. Breaking down a disease into its subtypes allows for a more specific "targeted" treatment. By using PA for PAS the authors are causing confusion and reversing the trends of history.
The authors’ claim that the debate around PAS results from the fact that I am using a medical syndrome to explain family orientation and interaction issues. This is not true. In all my writings I discuss in detail the various family interactions involved in PAS. The vast majority of disorders in DSM-IV involve family interactions, but descriptions of the family issues are not necessary for making the diagnosis. The primary reason for the debate is that PAS is a product of the adversary legal system, and the families in which the PAS is present believe (very naively) that the courts provide their best hope for resolving their disputes. In the adversary system, it behooves the programming parent to deny the existence of the PAS, and it behooves the victim parent to try to convince the court that PAS is very much a real entity. The primary source of the debate is that lawyers are continually looking for reasons to deny the existence of PAS and for mental health professionals who will support the denial of PAS programmers in courts of law. If deniers and distracters of PAS were to say to inviting lawyers: "You know, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the PAS, and I think Gardner is right. It does exist, and it’s important to say so in courts of law in order to help defend victim parents," they would lose business.
Another reason for the debate is that in the period when mothers were more likely than fathers to be PAS indoctrinators, those who recognized PAS risked being labeled as biased against women and "sexist." And the equation "PAS equals bias against women" has carried over now into the era when men are equally likely to be PAS indoctrinators. Unfortunately, the dictum is deeply embedded in the psyche of many in the legal and mental health professions. In the past, denial of PAS became a weapon for women who were PAS indoctrinators. Now that men are equally likely to be PAS indoctrinators, the deniers of PAS are hurting women victims of their husband’s PAS indoctrinations.
The authors then state:
"There is a relative absence of any empirical or research support for the reliable identification of PAS…."
I do not consider over 135 articles by over 150 authors and 67 legal citations to indicate that "there is a relative absence of any empirical or research support for the reliable identification of PAS."
The authors then claim that my articles on the PAS have been self-published. This absurd statement has absolutely nothing to do with reality. At the time I write this, my website lists 14 published articles, 4 in press, and one submitted for publication. All 19 are in peer-review journals. Not one of my articles on the PAS has ever been self-published.
Next, the authors would lead the reader to believe that I do not concern myself with historic reasons for the children’s resistance to visit with the alienated parent. My 1998 book (which the authors cite) describes in great detail the historic reasons: the family factors, the environmental factors, and the individual psychodynamic factors. Their statement that I have circumscribed PAS, totally oblivious to the family factors, has nothing to do with anything that I have ever written. Their citations to Rand, Walsh and Bone on that point would suggest to the reader that these authors support Kelly and Johnston with regard to this criticism. The Rand, Walsh and Bone articles do just the opposite. They, as do I, recognize the complexity of family factors that are operative in bringing about PAS. We see here yet another misrepresentation by the authors.
The authors are correct when they claim that in the severe cases of PAS, I recommend placement of the child with the hated parent and court sanctions. The authors would lead the reader to believe that this is the case with the vast majority of PAS cases that I see. I have repeatedly stated in my writings that these are "last resort" recommendations and apply to only about 10 ten percent of all cases that I have seen. These are the cases in which the indoctrinating parent (whether mother or father) is relentless in the indoctrinations and sometimes paranoid. These are the cases in which it is quite clear that if the children are not transferred, there will be lifelong alienation. My follow-up study of 99 PAS children provides compelling evidence for this conclusion (Gardner, 2001).
The authors claim that there is:
"… a lack of empirical support for PAS as a diagnostic entity."
Apparently, the 135 articles, most of which are based on empirical experiences, do not provide enough support for the authors. The authors then desribe:
"The barring of testimony about PAS in some courtrooms."
True, some courts have barred PAS, which is not surprising for a newly-described disorder being adjudicated in a court of law. But the authors make absolutely no mention of the 65 courts of law that have recognized PAS and that it has passed a Frye Test hearing. The authors then claim that PAS involves:
"The overly simplistic focus on the brainwashing parent as the primary etiological agent."
It is true that I do focus on the brainwashing parent, but it is not true that this is "overly simplistic." The fact is that when there is PAS, the primary etiological factor is the brainwashing parent. And, when there is no brainwashing parent, there is no PAS. This does not mean that all alienated children have brainwashing parents. What this means is that there is a subcategory of alienated children who do have brainwashing parents. When there is a primary cause, it is useful to label it as such.
With regard to the frequent misapplication of the PAS diagnosis, that is true. There are abusing fathers who claim that the children’s alienation has nothing to do with their abuses, but is the product of the children’s being programmed into PAS by their mothers. And there are mental health professionals who do not properly make the diagnosis, sometimes with disastrous results for the family. These misapplications are unfortunate, but it is illogical to blame them on the disorder or the person who first introduced the term and described its etiology, pathogenesis, clinical manifestations, and treatment. We do not blame Henry Ford for automobile accidents, nor should we get rid of cars because of them. Nor do we blame the Wright brothers and get rid of airplanes because there are airplane accidents and terrorists will use them as human bombs.
The authors go on to "reformulate" the PAS. They claim, somewhat condescendingly, that their focus is on the alienated child and that I erroneously focus on the alienating parent. However, without the alienating parent, the child wouldn’t be alienated. Without stopping the alienation, the child is going to continue to be alienated. By reducing the alienator’s access or changing custody (in severe cases), I am certainly focusing on the alienated child. The implication here, also, is that I have not used the alienated child as my starting point. I have. And when I use the child as a starting point, I see a typical constellation of symptoms: 1) The Campaign of Denigration, 2) Weak, Frivolous, or Absurd Rationalizations for the Deprecation, 3) Lack of Ambivalence, 4) The "Independent-Thinker" Phenomenon, 5) Reflexive Support of the Alienating Parent in the Parental Conflict, 6) Absence of Guilt Over Cruelty to and/or Exploitation of the Alienated Parent, 7) Presence of Borrowed Scenarios, and 8) Spread of the Animosity to the Extended Family and Friends of the Alienated Parent
Most of these symptoms are seen in the moderate cases, and all are usually seen in the severe cases. When these symptoms are present, I look back into the family to ascertain the cause: it’s usually a programmer. When one sees another constellation of symptoms of alienation--e.g., symptoms of physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect--one usually sees other reasons having little, if anything, to do with PAS programming. The authors consider themselves to be looking at the whole picture, implying that I do not. If I didn’t look at the whole picture and focused on the child only (as the authors profess they are doing), I would not have identified the main cause: the programming parent. Anyone reading any of the many books and articles I have written in the field of child psychiatry will easily see that my approach has always been on the whole family with a particular focus on protecting the child from pathological family influences.
The authors then describe what I call PAS and what they call "the alienated child." Basically, all they have done is given the PAS another name and have dropped "the big S word." This muddies the waters. The history of science is the history of developing ever more discrete differentiations. The authors are going backwards. Their alleged contribution, their "reformulation," is basically scientific regression. What they are doing is just the opposite of scientific progression.
As mentioned, the authors do not seem to appreciate that their discrediting and/or denying the PAS is a terrible disservice to women. I have seen many women who are victims of their husbands’ PAS indoctrinations, women who know well that PAS exists, women who have sought my help in supporting them against their PAS-indoctrinating husbands in courts of law. They know quite well that denying PAS’s existence weakens their cases. Such target mothers often find themselves helpless. They cannot get help from therapists who are still mouthing the old mantras: "PAS is just Gardner’s theory," "PAS doesn’t exist because it’s not in DSM-IV," and "PAS is not a syndrome." Lawyers, too, will tell them: "PAS exists, but this judge will not recognize it. I can’t use the word ‘syndrome’ in his (her) courtroom." And these victimized mothers cannot even turn to the Women’s Rights groups, because they are still stridently taking the position that PAS does not exist, that PAS is not a syndrome, etc. etc.
It is obvious, then, that women’s past denial and discrediting of PAS has now come back to haunt other women. Women are now being injured by their own weapons or, as the old saying goes, "They are being hoist by their own petards." Kelly and Johnston’s position, then, is contributing to the grief of women who are targets of their husbands’ PAS indoctrinations.
Kilgore v. Boyd, 13th Circuit Court, Hillsborough County, FL., Case No. 94-7573, 733 So. 2d 546 (Fla. 2d DCA 2000) Jan 30, 2001.
Boyd v. Kilgore, 773So. 2d 546 (Fla.3d DCA 2000).
Gardner, R.A. (1992) The Parental Alienation Syndrome: A Guide for Mental Health and Legal Professionals. Cresskill, New Jersey: Creative Therapeutics, Inc..
Gardner, R.A. (1998) The Parental Alienation Syndrome, Second Edition. Cresskill, New Jersey: Creative Therapeutics, Inc..
Gardner, R.A. (2001), Should Courts Order PAS Children to Visit/Reside with the Alienated Parent? A Follow-up Study. American Journal of Forensic Psychology, 19(3):61-106.