Parental alienation syndrome is an evolving subject and not without controversy. For some, anyone who obstructs contact is intentionally denigrating the other parent with the intent of alienating the child, and this is seen as a symptom of depression and dependence. But for others the matter is not so clear.
Anita Vestal defines PAS as:
... a disturbance in which children are preoccupied with viewing one parent as all good and the other parent as all bad. The bad parent is hated and verbally marginalised, whereas the good parent is idealised and loved ...
[Mediation and Parental Alienation Syndrome: considerations for an intervention model; Family and Conciliation Courts Review, (1999) 37 (4) p 487-503]
Richard A Gardner (who originated the term) defines PAS as:
... a disorder that arises primarily in the context of child-custody disputes. Its primary manifestation is the childís campaign of denigration against a parent, a campaign that has no justification. It results from the combination of a programming (brainwashing) parentís indoctrinations and the childís own contributions to the vilification of the target parent. When true parental abuse and/or neglect is present the childís animosity may be justified, and so the parental alienation syndrome explanation for the childís hostility is not applicable.
The Canadian Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access regarded alienation as a serious problem requiring immediate action:
One particularly alarming symptom of a high-conflict divorce is that a child may decide that he or she does not want to visit one parent or the other. Committee Members were profoundly concerned about such cases when they were described to us by witnesses, especially where children told the Committee that they wished to sever a relationship with a non-residential parent. In the view of Committee members, such a desire on the part of a child is indicative of a serious problem and calls for immediate intervention. A child who acts on such a wish, with the support of the other parent or the judicial system, may in the long term come to regret the choice he or she has made.They accordingly made Recommendation 33:
This Committee recommends that professionals who meet with children experiencing parental separation recognize that a child's wish not to have contact with a parent could reveal a significant problem and should result in the immediate referral of the family for therapeutic intervention.We are still evaluating the literature, but hope that what is on this site will be of use.
Essential reading - a comprehensive review of the literature about PAS
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Last updated 12 July 2005