Rebuttal to Kathleen Faller's Article
By Richard A. Gardner, M.D.
Kathleen Faller, DSW published her article, "The Parental Alienation Syndrome: What Is It and What Data Support It?"in the May 1998 issue of Child Maltreatment, 3(2):100-115.
This article was published less than a year after I testified in support of a plaintiff in a malpractice lawsuit against her and members of her department at the University of Michigan (The case file is public record.)
Below is my response, published in the November 1998 issue of Child Maltreatment, 3(4):309-312.
On the one hand, I was quite flattered that Dr. Faller saw fit to dedicate herself so assiduously to write about the PAS, a disorder about which I have written so extensively in the last 13 years, a disorder with which my name has become closely associated. On the other hand, the article is so filled with misrepresentations and misperceptions that it is a disservice to the reader to take much of it seriously, especially because many of the things Dr. Faller says have absolutely nothing to do with anything I have ever written or said. I enumerate some of the most egregious examples.
On page 100, right side of page, top paragraph, line 3, Faller states, with regard to PAS behaviors:
"In most cases, these behaviors include an allegation of sexual abuse."
I have never said that, nor do I believe it. I have never in any of my writings provided a percentage, especially a percentage that would imply or even suggest that most of PAS cases "include an allegation of sexual abuse." My own experiences have been that in possibly 10 or 15 percent of all PAS cases in which I have been involved, does a sex abuse accusation emerge.
Page 100, right, second full paragraph, Faller states that a sex-abuse accusation is "its usual product." Again, the same misrepresentation.
Page 101, column 2, bottom, paragraph 4 (near bottom), Faller states:
"Nor does he [Gardner] consider cases that might involve exaggeration or some factual material and some nonfactual material."
In the Introductory section of my 1992 PAS book (Gardner, 1992a) (the one she refers to in her article), page xviii, first full paragraph (bottom):
"It is the exaggeration [emphasis mine] of minor weaknesses and deficiencies that are the hallmarks of the parental alienation syndrome."
Furthermore, on page 86, paragraph 2, of my 1992 PAS book I state:
"Another way of brainwashing is to exaggerate [emphasis mine] a parent’s minor psychological problems. The parent who may have drunk a little extra alcohol on occasion will gradually become spoken of as ‘an alcoholic.’ And the parent who may have experimented occasionally with drugs comes to be viewed as ‘a drug addict.’ Even though the accusing parent may have joined with the former spouse in such experimentation with drugs, the vilified parent is given the epithet."
Page 102, left side, 2nd full paragraph, line 2, Faller states:
"The accused parent has already deserted the child because he has left the home during divorce."
I have never said this. What I have said is that the child may view the accused parent to be an abandoner, but I do not claim that he (or she) is an abandoner. In fact, when the accused parent is an abandoner the PAS diagnosis is not applicable because the children’s anger is warranted.
In the 1992 edition of my PAS book, page 119, first full paragraph, lines 9-11, I state:
"Mention has already been made of the anger engendered by the father’s leaving the home, an act that is viewed [emphasis mine] as an abandonment."
We see here how the selective omission of one word completely misrepresents my position.
Page 102, fifth full paragraph. Faller states:
"Gardner does not see the father as an aggressor, nor as the stronger of the two parents."
Again, there is absolutely nothing in my writings to support this misrepresentation. In all my publications I have described fathers as potential aggressors and sometimes as the stronger of the two parents, i.e., fathers as possible PAS inducers. In fact, the money-power factor is often operative in enabling PAS-inducing fathers to override earlier stronger bonding that the children have had with their mothers.
In my 1992 PAS book I do describe many situations in which the father is the aggressor and becomes the stronger of the two parents. Specifically, I state (bottom of page 106 to the top of 107):
"There are situations, however, in which the mother was indeed the primary custodial parent during the child’s infancy; yet the father becomes the preferred parent in the child custodial dispute, the one with whom the child sides when a parental alienation syndrome develops. My experience has been that when this takes place the father has embarked on a long program-often over many months and even years-that is designed to lure the child away from the mother and has the effect of attenuating the previously strong psychological bond. . . . With time, energy, persistence, and cunning, that parent may ultimately prevail, but it is going to take a much longer time. Both parents must rely on children’s malleability, suggestibility, and their desire to comply with adult authority. These factors, which may operate easily for the primarily bonded parent, can also operate, although with much greater difficulty and with much more programming, for the parent who starts with the weaker parent-child bond."
Page 104, left side, first full paragraph, lines 4-8, Faller states:
"He evidently does not consider that a likely outcome of the discovery of incest is a decision by the mother to divorce the offending father."
This statement is ludicrous. Faller would have the reader believe that I do not think there are any situations in which a mother, after discovering the father in an incestuous relationship with the child, asks the father to leave the home and institutes divorce proceedings. Not only is this an absurd statement, but there is absolutely nothing in any of my writings to provide any credibility for this allegation. In fact, I have repeatedly stated that when true abuse is present (and incest is one example of such abuse), then the PAS disagnosis is not applicable in that the children’s animosity is justified.
Page 105, left column, first full paragraph. Faller states:
"Gardner believes that these dynamics also operate among professionals who are involved in the investigation, treatment, and litigation of sexual abuse cases, whom he calls "validators," which is for him a pejorative term. In addition to satisfying their sexual needs by making false allegations of sexual abuse, they are also motivated by greed. They make money by substantiating and treating sexual abuse cases. According to Gardner (1991, 1992c), these people are poorly educated and poorly trained. Their incompetence and use of flawed techniques lead hundreds of children to falsely claim or affirm sexual victimization."
Faller is correct here that I consider the term "validator" problematic because it implies that the evaluator is biased toward concluding that the sexual abuse actually took place. The implication here, also, is that I believe that people involved in sex abuse cases are operating under a high level of sexual excitation. Again, this is absurd. The media knows well that sex and violence attract attention and satisfy morbid curiosity. All I am saying is that sex-abuse evaluators are no exception to this principle. Last, she does quote me correctly in stating that I do believe that one of the great problems in the field is the large number of poorly educated, poorly trained, and incompetent individuals who use flawed techniques and "lead hundreds of children to falsely claim or affirm sexual victimization." This does not preclude, however (and I state this repeatedly in my writings), that bona fide sex-abuse is a widespread phenomenon. I have no problem viewing two groups: truly accusing and falsely accusing children. I have no problem, either, believing that the group of genuinely accusing children far outnumbers the group of falsely accusing.
Page 106, left column, bottom paragraph. Faller states:
"He makes this assertion, for example, regarding his belief that female therapists, who are either man haters or paranoids, partake of folie a trois with mothers and contribute to their campaign of vilification and vengeance against fathers (Gardner, 1992a, p. 147)."
There is no question that the statement is valid. I am not claiming, as is implied by Faller’s statement, that I view all, or almost all, female therapists to fall into this category. No one will ever know the percentage of female therapists who are paranoid, nor will one ever know the percentage of male therapists who are paranoid. All I am saying is that there are some who are indeed man haters, and who do indeed partake in a folie a trois relationship with their patients. Similarly, there are male therapists (again percentage unknown) who are women haters and will join in with their male patients in a folie a trois relationship.
Page 106, right side, paragraph 1, line 1. Faller states:
"It is important to appreciate a consequence of the fact that Gardner publishes the vast majority of his work himself."
Again, a gross misrepresentation. I have published approximately 150 articles, none of which have been published by myself. With regard to my books, it is true that since 1978 I have published most of my books through my own publishing company, Creative Therapeutics, Inc. However, prior to that time, I published books through the following well-known publishers: Bantam Books, 5; Prentice-Hall, 2; Doubleday, 1; Avon, 1, G.P. Putnams, 1; and Jason Aronson, 6. The last Bantam Book was published in 1992 and, more importantly, invitations from major publishers have always been forthcoming. Furthermore, Creative Therapeutics does not publish any of the foreign translations of my books, which include: Spanish, French, Dutch, Italian, Japanese, Czech, and Hebrew.
In the same paragraph Faller states (page 106, upper right paragraph):
"This means that his work does not have to meet the standards of peer review."
The facts are that I have published about 115 peer-reviewed articles.
Faller then goes on to criticize my 1995 book, Protocols for the Sex-Abuse Evaluation (1995). The book lists 62 criteria for differentiating between true and false sex abuse accusations made by children. When one reads her article, one would think the total protocol is worthless and that there is not one single criterion that is of any value. The fact is that every one of the criteria is valuable and the vast majority are routinely used. In fact, no competent professional has ever come forth and said that any particular criterion is of no value. The usual critique is that the total protocol has not been scientifically validated, something which is obviously impossible because one cannot have external validity for a sex-abuse protocol. Each of the criteria can be scientifically assessed as to whether or not it appears in children who have been documented to have been sexually abused. She also critiques the 26 criteria I use for assessing for the presence of pedophilic tendencies. Again, all of these are criteria derived from the scientific literature on the behavioral characteristics of pedophiles. Again, she cannot take issue with any single criterion because they are all well substantiated in the scientific literature.
Page 110, right, third full paragraph, line 3. Faller states:
". . . his opinion that we achieve sexual gratification every time [emphasis mine] we consider the sexual acts involved in an allegation are rather astonishing."
There is absolutely no place where I make the statement that this occurs every time. What I do say is that sex and violence cases are much more attractive to most people because of the morbid curiosity and mild vicarious gratification that many people get from them. Faller implies here that it is my opinion that these cases routinely produce high levels of sexual excitation in everybody involved in these cases. This is gross misrepresentation.
Page 111, left. Here Faller claims that the parental alienation syndrome is not a syndrome. She quotes the APA’s 1994 definition of a syndrome (page 111, left column, third full paragraph): "A group of symptoms that occur together and that constitute a recognizable condition."
The PAS is a syndrome by this definition. In the PAS, especially in the moderate (and almost routinely in the severe type) most, if not all, of the following eight symptoms occur together as a cluster:
1. A campaign of denigration
2. Weak, absurd, or frivolous 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. The presence of borrowed scenarios
8. Spread of the animosity to the friends and/or extended family of the alienated parent
I am sure Dr. Faller has seen children who have become alienated in the context of child-custody disputes. I am sure that Dr. Faller has also seen, if she will allow herself to, children who exhibit each one of these symptoms in the context of such disputes. If she has not seen children who exhibit many, if not all, of the symptoms in this cluster, then she is denying the reality of the world. She has to deny the observations of an ever-growing number of mental health and legal professionals who are writing articles on the PAS and judges who are citing it in their rulings. An ever-expanding list of such articles (all in peer-reviewed journals) and legal citations are to be found on my website (refs_index).
Page 112, right, first full paragraph. Faller states:
"A fundamental flaw in the syndrome, as described by Gardner (1992a, 1992c), is that it fails to take into account alternative explanations for the child’s and mother’s behavior, including the veracity of the allegation or that the mother has made an honest mistake. Even in false cases, it does not take into account the full range of motivations and behaviors of children, mothers, and fathers."
Basically, what Faller is saying here is that I do not consider bona fide abuse to be a possible explanation for the child’s animosity. This is absurd.
In my 1992 PAS book, Introduction, page xviii, first full paragraph (bottom), I state:
"When bona fide abuse does exist, then the child’s responding hostility is warranted and the concept of the parental alienation syndrome is not applicable."
Furthermore, and more importantly, in the 1998 update of my PAS book (which was published simultaneously with Faller’s article and so she cannot be faulted for not having considered it in her article), there is a chapter (Chapter 9) entitled, "Differentiating Between the Parental Alienation Syndrome and Bona Fide Abuse/Neglect." Another book of mine, Psychotherapy with Sex-Abuse Victims: True, False, and Hysterical (1996), devotes approximately one-third of the book to the treatment of genuinely abused children. Even more importantly, for every one of the 62 criteria for differentiating between a true and false sex-abuse accusation, I describe the manifestations that are seen when the accusation is likely to be true and those that are likely to be seen when the sex-abuse accusation is false.
Faller goes on to discuss the Sex-Abuse Legitimacy Scale. Here she is beating a dead horse. She notes correctly that the term does not appear in my 1995 book, but she does not tell the reader the reasons for my dropping the term, which are clearly spelled out in my 1992b book (pages 34-35). In short, I describe therein how the scoring system was being frequently misused, sometimes in dangerous ways. Accordingly, I dispensed with the scoring system and, over years, have been able to add new criteria in all categories (accuser, accused, and the alleged child victim). Not only does Faller ignore my statement that I have not used the term SAL-Scale since 1990, but has entitled the Appendix with a bizarre and misleading title (page 112, right column), which indicates an impossible 1992 publication of the SAL-Scale:
Factors in the Sexual Abuse Legitimacy Scale (Gardner, 1992c)
I believe you have done your readers, and more importantly, your readers’ patients, a serious disservice by publishing this extremely biased and misleading article. The title of the article, "The Parental Alienation Syndrome: What It Is and What Data Support It?" belies at the outset her bias: by virtue of the question mark. The answer to the question: "What Data Support It?" is to be found at my website, which is rapidly expanding. There is the data if Dr. Faller wishes to avail herself of the opportunity to answer that question for herself.
_______ (1991), Sex Abuse Hysteria: Salem Witch Trials Revisited. Cresskill, New Jersey: Creative Therapeutics, Inc.
_______ (1992a), The Parental Alienation Syndrome: A Guide for Mental Health and Legal Professionals. Cresskill, New Jersey: Creative Therapeutics, Inc.
_______ (1992b). True and False Accusations of Child Sex Abuse. Cresskill, New Jersey: Creative Therapeutics, Inc.
_______ (1995), Protocols for the Sex-Abuse Evaluation. Cresskill, New Jersey: Creative Therapeutics, Inc.
_______ (1996), Psychotherapy with Sex-Abuse Victims: True, False, and Hysterical. Cresskill, New Jersey: Creative Therapeutics, Inc.
_______ (1998), The Parental Alienation Syndrome, Second Edition. Cresskill, New Jersey: Creative Therapeutics, Inc.