Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS)—Pseudoscientific Theory Used Against Survivors in Court—Is Rejected from the DSM-V
Joan Meier, Professor of Clinical Law, George Washington University Law School
In the last year, it was decided that Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) and its offspring (Parental Alienation Disorder) will not be included in the Fifth Edition of the Physicians’ Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V). This is very good news for victims of abuse.
PAS or parental alienation (PA) was invented as a quasi-scientific theory to refute allegations of abuse by one parent against another in the context of a custody battle. The theory starts from the obvious premise that separating parents are often derogatory about each other to the children. But the theory spins into ideology when it suggests that where children are reluctant to spend time with their noncustodial father, they have been essentially brainwashed by an “alienating” mother. PAS/PA labeling of the mother is routinely used in court to reverse the focus from whether the abuse claims are true, to the assumption that a mother’s abuse claims are themselves a kind of emotional abuse (i.e., “alienation”). PAS/PA thinking thus is used to not only silence a parent who accuses the other of domestic violence or child sexual or physical abuse but also the children’s own feelings and reports, all of which are attributed to the mother’s nefarious or pathological efforts. Sadly, PAS/PA (and similar) labeling has been implicated in the majority of cases where a court has ordered that an abusive parent be given unsupervised access to children.
Had the DSM-V included PAS or PAD it would have added enormous financial incentives to the already existing financial remuneration for the many mental health professionals who evaluate and testify about parental alienation in custody litigation. The decision by an objective committee of psychiatric researchers and clinicians to keep it out of the DSM-V, the “bible” of psychiatric medicine, because it is not scientifically valid lends momentum to existing scientific critiques of PAS/PA/PAD and should make it at least a little harder for these theories to be misused in court.
Further reading and resources:
Meier, J. (2009). A historical perspective on parental alienation syndrome and parental alienation. Journal of Child Custody, 6(3-4), 232-257. Available at http://www.dvleap.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=dUauj0V-0Fs%3D&tabid=181.
For more information about PAS, including research and cases studies, see the Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project at http://www.dvleap.org/Home.aspx and the Leadership Council at