American Psychological Association Distances Itself from Old APA Publication Criticizing Legitimacy of Parental Alienation Syndrome

In the new front page San Francisco Weekly story California Family Courts Helping Pedophiles, Batterers Get Child Custody (3/2/11), author Peter Jamison extensively criticizes the legitimacy of Parental Alienation Syndrome. His central assertion is:

PAS has never been accepted into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the psychiatrist’s bible of known conditions. The syndrome has also been denounced by professional groups including the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and the American Psychological Association Presidential Task Force on Violence and the Family, which view it as a ploy for obscuring a court’s inquiries into allegations of child abuse.

As we explained in our full analysis of Jamison’s piece here, there are numerous problems with the above claims. Now we can add another one–the American Psychological Association has distanced itself from its Presidential Task Force on Violence and the Family report which criticized Parental Alienation. We wrote Julia M. Silva, the APA’s Director of the Violence Prevention Office Public Interest Directorate in Washington, DC, concerning the 1996 APA report. According to Silva, the APA no longer makes the report available because it is “outdated and needs review” and the APA “has no plans to review and reprint it.” There are several other problems with the San Francisco Weekly’s claims above:

1) It is very inaccurate to say that “PAS has never been accepted into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.” This is because the last DSM was done in 1994, and preparation for it began just a few years after Parental Alienation Syndrome was first delineated. PAS isn’t in DSM because it couldn’t have been–the first opportunity for it to be included is actually happening right now, with the preparation of DSM-5. A group of 70 mental health experts from 12 countries are part of this current effort to add Parental Alienation to DSM-5. To learn more about this, as well as Fathers and Families’ involvement in it, click here. 2) It is very misleading to claim that the American Psychological Association has “denounced” PAS. The APA task force referred to by Jamison’s sources took place in 1996. Yet a decade later Rhea K. Farberman, Executive Director of Public and Member Communications of the American Psychological Association, publicly retorted that claims that the APA has discredited PAS are “incorrect” and “inaccurate,” and that the APA “does not have an official position on parental alienation syndrome–pro or con.” The APA has put out mixed messages about Parental Alienation Syndrome. Shared parenting advocate Les Veskrna, MD explains that at times “The APA has, in fact, heretofore made a significant endorsement of the validity of PAS.” Veskrna analzyed the APA’s history with PAS for Fathers and Families here. 3) According to a 2005 statement from the APA itself, “an APA 1996 Presidential Task Force on Violence and the Family noted the lack of data to support so-called ‘parental alienation syndrome,” and raised concern about the term”s use.’ This hardly equals “denounced.” Moreover, at the time (1996), Parental Alienation had only been delineated a decade earlier, and it wasn’t unreasonable to be “concerned” about its use until there was more research on it. 4) According to former Boston Globe columnist Cathy Young, “It is worth noting that the APA”s own stance may have been influenced by politics more than science: The 1996 family violence task force was chaired by psychologist Lenore Walker, whose own writings on ‘battered woman syndrome’ have been widely criticized as shoddy and ideologically driven.”

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