Huffington Post Covers DSM/Parental Alienation Controversy, F & F’s Campaign

Divorce consultant Cathy Meyer recently covered the controversy over DSM-5 and Parental Alienation, along with Fathers and Families’ role in it, in her Huffington Post column Parental Alienation: It’s About More Than ‘A Uterus, Divorce Papers and Bruises’ (1/25/11). While Meyer’s column makes many important points about the controversy, there are a couple elements which merit clarification and some questions.

Meyer writes:

Over the last few months Father’s Rights activists have been attempting to have Parental Alienation Disorder added to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the American Psychiatric Association’s “bible” of diagnoses.

A couple points:

1) Meyer is referring to our Campaign to Ask DSM to Include Parental Alienation in Upcoming Edition, which we launched in December of 2009. The response from our supporters has been enthusiastic–Dr. Darrel Regier, Vice Chair of the DSM-5 Task Force, told the Associated Press in October, “We’ve gotten an enormous amount of mail–more than [on] any other issue.”

A coalition of mental health experts led by psychiatrist William Bernet has been at the forefront of the DSM efforts. Fathers and Families’ work has been to support this coalition. Gaining inclusion isn’t easy–David J. Kupfer, M.D., the chair of the DSM-5 Task Force, told the media that with any disorder proposed for inclusion, “The door to get in [the manual] is pretty hard.”

2) We are a family court reform organization (as opposed to “Father’s Rights activists”). Our emphasis generally turns towards fathers because they are the ones whose relationships with their children is most imperiled after a divorce or separation, but we support fair treatment for all family court litigants.

Meyer writes:

When learning of this effort the National Organization for Women (NOW) became concerned and sent out an Action Alert to counter the campaign. According to NOW’s Tracy Simmons:

“Parental Alienation Syndrome has now morphed into Parental Alienation Disorder thanks to the fathers’ rights organizations who are wildly pushing this through, and why wouldn’t they? It benefits the abuser and discriminates against the victims of abuse, which are overwhelmingly women.

To learn more about NOW’s counter-campaign, see our blog post NOW Criticizes F & F over Our Campaign to Ask DSM to Include Parental Alienation in Upcoming Edition, Writes DSM Task Force, Urging Them Not to Include Alienation. Simmons’ characterization of Parental Alienation is very erroneous, as Meyer correctly details.

Meyer writes:

Parental alienation syndrome is not a gender specific issue. It was once believed women were the main perpetrators of parental alienation, but no longer. “Fifty percent are men,” said Judith Ray, a licensed family therapist in Colorado Springs.

“Those who are 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.”

Parental Alienation certainly isn’t a gender-specific issue, but there are a couple problems with Ray’s statement. For one, it probably is not true that “50% of alienators are men,” simply because custodial parental alienators have an enormous advantage over noncustodial parental alienators, and most custodial parents are mothers.

Second, she seems to see male parental alienators as evil, whereas female ones are merely “needy,” “in fear of abandonment,” etc. This type of “blame the man, understand the woman” thinking is pervasive in and around family court.

Meyer writes:

The love a parent has for a child can’t be dismissed by accusations of domestic violence and the welfare of a child should not be overlooked in favor of a mother/father who has been a victim of domestic abuse…a parent’s right to protect the parental relationship with a child is as important as [an abuse victim’s] right to protect yourself from your abuser.

Fathers and Families has always been clear–we’ve no sympathy for batterers, and we believe that the family court system should actively protect abused women (and men) from further abuse. Our main problem with the domestic violence system is that mere accusations are frequently taken as gospel, and false abuse allegations are often made for advantage in child custody and divorce litigation.

In the quote above, Meyer seems to trip over the issue of domestic violence and Parental Alienation, and it’s hard to gauge her real intent. Perhaps it’s poor editing, or perhaps I’m just not reading her correctly. If she’d like to publicly clarify her views, we’d welcome it.

To join the debate about Parental Alienation and Meyer’s piece on the Huffington Post, click here.

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