Clinical Psychiatry News board member Dr. Paul J. Fink makes a shockingly irresponsible assertion in his recent column. He writes that family court reform groups seeking to have parental alienation disorder seriously considered for inclusion in the DSM-5 are doing so because they “don”t like to be interfered with when they are sexually abusing their children”…
A group of 70 mental health experts from 12 countries are part of an effort to add Parental Alienation Disorder to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM V), the American Psychiatric Association’s “bible” of diagnoses. This scientific coalition is led by psychiatrist William Bernet, who explains that adding PAD to DSM “would spur insurance coverage, stimulate more systematic research, lend credence to a charge of parental alienation in court, and raise the odds that children would get timely treatment.”
Fathers and Families wants to ensure that the DSM-5 Task Force is aware of the scope and severity of Parental Alienation. To this end, in December we asked our supporters to write the Task Force to urge them to consider including Parental Alienation Disorder in DSM-5. As usual, the response was overwhelming. It also helped lead to progress – while, as expected, the newly-released draft version does not specifically include Parental Alienation Disorder, the DSM-5 Task Force has now listed Parental Alienation Disorder among the “Conditions Proposed by Outside Sources…that are still under consideration by the work groups.” Gaining inclusion isn”t easy – David J. Kupfer, M.D., the chair of the DSM-V Task Force, recently told the media that with any disorder proposed for inclusion, ‘The door to get in [the manual] is pretty hard.’
Over the past couple months Fathers and Families has been embroiled in a public controversy with Paul J. Fink, M.D., an Editorial Board member of the Clinical Psychiatry News, a prominent mental health publication. Dr. Fink, who is also a professor of psychiatry at Temple University, has long been one of the leading opponents of recognizing Parental Alienation. Our recently published letter “Inexcusable Remarks” (5/10) in the Clinical Psychiatry News explains the controversy. We wrote:
Clinical Psychiatry News board member Dr. Paul J. Fink makes a shockingly irresponsible assertion in his recent column. He writes that family court reform groups seeking to have parental alienation disorder seriously considered for inclusion in the DSM-5 are doing so because they “don”t like to be interfered with when they are sexually abusing their children.’ No, that is not a misprint.
Dr. Fink directs the comment at “This group [that] has petitioned the DSM task force to include PAS in the publication,’ meaning Fathers and Families. As is well known, since December, thousands of letters have been sent from Fathers and Families members to the three leaders of the DSM task force as part of our public campaign on the issue. The purpose of the letters has been to be sure that members of the task force understand how prevalent and devastating the effects of PAD are. But we have respectfully left the determination of whether PAD belongs in the DSM-5 to those in the mental health professions. All information concerning our campaign can be seen on our website at www.fathersandfamilies.org.
Fathers and Families has conducted itself responsibly and professionally throughout the campaign, and Dr. Fink has absolutely no basis for his assertions. We demand that Dr. Fink either publicly provide a documented basis for defaming us as individuals and as an organization or that Clinical Psychiatry News publish a full retraction, publicly positioned, of Dr. Fink”s outrageous comments.
We also can”t help but wonder whether a person so ready to make unsubstantiated accusations of criminal behavior properly belongs on the editorial board of a responsible publication.
Our letter demanding a retraction was signed by Fathers & Families Board member Thomas C. Meyers, Esq., a partner in the prestigious international law firm Brown Rudnick LLP, F & F Board Member Robert Franklin, Esq., F & F Board Chairman Ned Holstein, M.D., M.S., and myself.
Because Fink is a professor of psychiatry at Temple University, we also sent letters to John M. Daly, MD, Dean of the Temple University School of Medicine and William Dubin, MD, Interim Chair of the Psychiatry and Behavioral Science Department of the Temple University School of Medicine. In the letter to Daly and Dubin, which can be seen here, we explained:
We also cannot help but wonder whether a person so ready to make unsubstantiated accusations of criminal behavior properly belongs on the faculty of such a well respected Medical School such as Temple University and wanted to be sure you were aware of his unfounded and irresponsible comments.
Since Dr. Fink practices in Pennsylvania, we also sent a letter of complaint to Pennsylvania’s Bureau of Enforcement and Investigation’s Professional Compliance Office.
In response, Dr. Fink, to his credit, apologized and retracted his defamatory statement in the latest issue of the Clinical Psychiatry News. Dr. Fink wrote:
I apologize for suggesting that all fathers who accuse mothers of PAS are sexually abusing their children. That was clearly an overstatement that I retract. Admittedly, I got carried away when writing the article…I had absolutely no intention of impugning Dr. Bernet, his colleagues, or Fathers and Families in any way. I hope we can all come to an agreement about what constitutes alienation, how to deal with PAS, and how to proceed in court hearings when someone alleges that one or another parent is an alienator or an abuser.
On the subject of Parental Alienation, Dr. Fink also wrote:
I do not deny that parental alienation occurs and that a lot of people are hurt when there is an alienator…My major point is that all allegations of alienation by a parent need to be investigated. I am very interested in ensuring that the right thing is done on behalf of the children and that we stop any alienation of a parent that is occurring. It”s the court”s responsibility to ensure that a good evaluation is done.
We agree with Dr. Fink, and echoed similar sentiments in our recent column Preventing courts from considering parental alienation will harm kids (Capitol Weekly, 2/25/10):
Parental Alienation is a serious problem. When fact-finding in custody cases, judges and custody evaluators must be able to properly consider all available evidence. When abuse is alleged, the accusation merits serious consideration. When Parental Alienation is alleged, the accusation merits serious consideration, too.
Fink has long been an opponent of Fathers and Families and the Family Court Reform movement, particularly during our successful 2005 Campaign Against PBS’s Father-Bashing Breaking the Silence. In response to our massive popular campaign, PBS commissioned an entirely new film on child custody issues–a film which was balanced and generally sympathetic to divorced fathers. To learn more, click here.
Some of you may recall that Fink squared off against us in a debate on the film in several newspapers – Fink’s article can be seen here, ours can be seen here.
The debate over Parental Alienation has long been marred by hysterics and wild accusations from some of those who believe that family law courts should not recognize Parental Alienation. Fink’s retraction and related statement are a significant step towards rationalizing this debate and focusing on the crucial task of protecting children of divorce from harm.
Amy J.L. Baker, Ph.D., a member of the Bernet group, told the Clinical Psychiatry News, “Certainly, intelligent people can disagree about parental alienation without resorting to accusing one another of being sexual abusers.” We agree, and hope that the quality of the debate over Parental Alienation can be elevated.
Together with you in the love of our children,
Glenn Sacks, MA
Executive Director, Fathers & Families