Early Scholarly Analysis of Parental Alienation-Like Situations

Prior to Dr. Gardner’s writings about “Parental Alienation,” other scholars noted similar phenomena. Author Wilhelm Reich in his 1949 book, Character Analysis, discussed narcissistic parents who defamed their ex-spouses to win child custody negotiation battles. Writing about alienation in the mid-1980’s, around the time when Dr. Gardner first began discussing it, Dr. Anita Lampel suggested that: “The quality of the child’s rejection of the nonresidential parent differs from the child’s reaction to clearly dysfunctional parents in at least two ways: the rejection is not based upon objectively noted parental dysfunction such as abuse, alcoholism, neglect, or mental disturbance; the child lacks the conscious ambivalent feelings normally seen in a child raised by dysfunctional parents.” She also cited the work of scholars Wallerstein and Kelly, who in 1980 “observed that latency-age children exhibited these symptoms and that symptoms frequently eased with independence of judgment which adolescence brought.”

Salvador Minuchin in 1974 came up with a concept called the “cross-generational coalition” and described a similar kind of unholy alliance. In 1977, Jay Haley described a “perverse triangle” that pits two members of a family against another.

Given this historical background, you might think that psychologists, lawyers and children’s rights advocates would all be able to come together to form generally agreed-upon definition of this issue. However, the definition of Parental Alienation and its potential remedies have sparked a surprisingly vitriolic debate. Why? And what does this debate mean for your case?

Among other things, skeptics have criticized:

  • Dr. Gardner’s scholarship;


  • The relatively limited amount of quality academic scholarship on PA;



  • Johnson, Walters and Olesen 2005 found that many children exposed to behaviors of the type that Dr. Gardner and Warshak described do not become alienated, and even children who have been obviously abused and neglected by their parents often chose to remain in loving relationships with them.

However, the biggest controversy isn’t over the definition of PA or the science (or lack thereof) to support it but rather its highly charged gender politics. Here’s the issue. Either a mother or a father can be the instigating parent. In practice, though, mothers stand accused far more often. For instance, maybe the mother accuses the father of abuse and neglect, and the father counter-accuses the mother of alienation.

Truth be told, in many situations, both parents engage in wrongheaded or destructive behavior, so it can be hard to untangle the truth and repair the damage.

Thanks to this gender divide, though, many feminist groups, such as the National Organization of Women (NOW), have fought vigorously against including the disorder in the American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), sparking counter-accusations among fathers’ rights groups that such stances are “anti-science and anti-father.”

The back and forth regarding the semantics of PA has lead to strange ambiguities. For instance, the 2013 version of the DSM (the DSM-5) does include a category called “child psychological abuse,” which refers to “non-accidental verbal or symbolic acts by a child’s parent or caregiver that result, or have reasonable potential to result, in significant psychological harm to the child.” This category does not, however, specifically define a term called “Parental Alienation” or “Parental Alienation Syndrome.”

For skillful, experienced assistance battling back against untrue allegations of child abuse or neglect, call the Williams Law Group, LLC immediately at (908) 810-1083.

Let us know how we can help
Contact Our New Jersey Family Lawyers Today