Denver Post Op-Ed Calls for Parental Alienation Recognition by APA

Hard on the heels of the sympathetic treatment of Parental Alienation by the prime-time television crime series, “Law and Order,” comes this first-rate article by Mary Winter (Denver Post, 12/5/10).

Typically, she uses, as her point of departure, the personal story of one man who’s lost his children for good due to the alienating behavior of his ex-wife.  Like so many cases of PAS, the children were apparently coached by their mother into making, at ages 9 and 10, the most outrageous claims of physical and sexual abuse by their father.

In vain did the father prove to the satisfaction of law enforcement officials and two separate investigations by social services personnel that the charges were fabricated.  Neither did it matter that the judge considered the children’s tales to have been “prepared and rehearsed.”  Likewise, the ruling by a Texas court giving joint custody to the father did nothing to provide him actual access to his children.

And therein lies the insidious nature of parental alienation.  Its whole purpose is to turn the children against one parent, so when it’s successful, no court order in the world will make the kids want to be with the alienated parent.  Parental Alienation trumps anything a court can do and that’s why it needs to be caught and stopped early in the game.

To be clear, parental alienation is child abuse.  That one fact should be clearly understood by judges, social service workers and mental health professionals of every description.  So understood, perhaps they’ll be less hesitant to intervene once the process of alienation becomes clear.

Parental alienation constitutes child abuse because, as I never tire of saying, children do better with two parents than with one.  Since parental alienation is the concerted effort by a parent to give a child one parent, not two, and thus damage him/her in various social and psychological ways.  Therefore it’s rightly seen as abuse.

Worse, it distorts the child’s view of the other parent and that can seriously damage the child’s emotional wellbeing throughout its life.  Not long ago I posted a piece about a police officer in Washington State who had spent 17 years in prison due to false allegations by his son and daughter.  Those allegations originated with and were encouraged every step of the way by his ex-wife.

Not only did he suffer incarceration for all that time, but particularly his son suffered extreme emotional problems well into adulthood that stemmed from his giving testimony that he knew as a child to be false.  That, plus his attempts to rationalize his false statements with the reality of his father took a heavy toll on his psyche until the two were able to reunite after his father’s release from prison.

The point being that the effects of PAS are like a shotgun blast; they often hit more than just the intended target.

Experts agree alienation robs children of more than a parent. “They lose half their heritage,” said Ray. “They lose their grandparents, they lose their aunts and uncles, they lose their cousins.”

To her credit, Mary Winter calls, in so many words, for recognition of PAS by the American Psychiatric Association and its inclusion in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.

[S]tudies documenting PAS’s long-term damage make it clear it belongs in this all-important catalog of officially recognized mental disorders.

And she, like so many of us, does her part to try to convince the anti-dad crowd that recognition of PAS by the APA is not some crazed attack by sick men on the legitimate rights of mothers.  That should be clear from the fact that mental health professionals agree that parental alienation is not a product of gender but of individual psychopathology.

Women used to be thought of as the main perpetrators of parental alienation, but no longer. Fifty percent are men, said Judith Ray, a licensed family therapist in Colorado Springs. Those men tend to be narcissistic, characterized by a sense of entitlement, arrogance and low empathy. Female alienators often have borderline personalities, marked by insecurity, neediness, a strong fear of abandonment and chronic emptiness.

The understanding of PAS is widening.  Its importance is hard to overestimate.  Thanks to Mary Winter and the Denver Post for doing their part to improve parenting and the decisions family courts make about child custody.

Thanks to Brett for the heads-up.

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