Parental alienation has been a hot-button topic since Richard Gardner’s theory and the subsequent debate occurred. While the American Psychological Association never recognized Parental Alienation as a diagnostic label, many Court relied on expert testimony in this area in adjudicating custody disputes. The fact is that children do sometimes experience distance in their relationship with a parent. Recent research (Kelly and Johnson, 2001) confirms that there are many reasons for this distance, ranging from realistic estrangement, where a child is distant or rejects a parent who has abused him, to pathological alienation, where a child is distant or rejects a parent due to the influence of the other parent. The middle ground between these extremes contains children who display an allegiance for one parent over the other – who have not been subject to any dynamics of alienation or abuse. The allegiance shown by these children is often age and developmentally appropriate. Alienation exists but it is not a “one size fits all” label and discerning which type of alienation is present is the basis for determining the relative responsibilities of the parents for causing this alienation and, more importantly, helps to identify the necessary treatments for remedying it. Alienated children suffer (Fidler and Bala, 2010) and the ill effects of the alienation persist into adulthood (Baker 2005a, 2005b, 2007) It is critical for their best interest and safety that the problem be accurately identified and treated.
Credit: Dr. David Finn, Rolling Meadows, Illinois