DSM-5 And Parental Alienation

The American Psychiatric Association Does Not Recognize Parental Alienation As A Syndrome

The DSM-5 Released In 2013

The American Psychiatric Association periodically publishes "The Diagnostic And Statistical  Manual Of Mental Disorders."  The release of the fifth edition in 2013 met with both great enthusiasm and disappointment regarding the concept of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS). Interestingly, parents caught on both sides of an alienation battle were either enthusiastic or disappointed depending on their specific situation.  Victims of alienation by a spouse or ex-spouse had hoped that the legitimization of PAS would make it easier to defend themselves from false accusations made by the alienating parent.   But, opponents argued that official recognition of PAS would result in the courts siding with abusive, non-residential parents, thus subjecting children to continued, unnecessary abuse.  

The problem with these "positions" is that they are more political than medical.  And, as a result the problem of Parental Alienation is mired in confusion, politics, and misunderstanding.  Consequently, the courts remain stymied by the lack of clear protocols that can be used as guidelines by judges and attorneys.  And, families continue to suffer at the hands of alienators with personality disorders.

The psychiatric community, including the authors of the DSM-5, recognize Parental Alienation as a dysfunctional relationship between a child and parent.  Often, there are legitimate reasons for the dysfunction ranging from verbal and emotional denigration to neglect to sexual or physical abuse.  However, it is also recognized that the alienated relationship can be caused by any number of underlying disorders that drive an affected parent to promote the dysfunctional relationship.  So, although the conditions required to be considered a "syndrome" are missing the DSM-5 has recognized the problem as well as some of the underlying causative disorders and the need for intervention with the disordered parent and child.

And, as I did more research I began to understand the issues more clearly.  Here are some thoughts and conclusions.

  • The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is the standard classification of mental disorders used by mental health professionals in the United States.  It is a medical publication that has been caught in a social, legal, and political crossfire.
  • I was victimized by my ex-husband but the primary offenders in Parental Alienation are women.  So, the situation is something of a political football because male organizations have lobbied for inclusion while women's groups such as NOW have tried to keep PAS excluded.  The "father" argument goes that if included men will have a legitimate court claim that alienation is being practiced by their ex-wives in an attempt to win sole custody and eliminate visitation with the father. 
  • There have been a substantial number of documented instances of alienation cases where one parent (usually the mother) fraudulently accuses the other parent of sexual or physical abuse in an attempt to win sole custody.  The children who have been alienated agree with the false accusations.
  • Many mental health professionals argue that PAS in and of itself is not a mental disease. Rather, it is a relationship dysfunction that usually results from the expression of an existing personality disorder  such as Narcissism in the alienator parent.  The personality disorder is already defined in the DSM and should be treated per the guidelines. 
  • Too often, mental health professionals and the courts first become aware of the problem only after the alienation is pretty much complete.  Thus, it is very difficult to objectively identify factual information since the child will argue vociferously in support of the alienator.
  • The problem with the last point is that people with relevant personality disorders often have the ability to hide their disorder from therapists, thus making it very difficult to effectively diagnose the problem. On the other hand, mental health workers should be trained to be suspicious when both a parent and child are in lock step with their hate and allegations aimed at the other parent.
  • Because the alienation is often complete by the time the courts get involved it is essential that a suspecting parent insist that the attorney petition for a court ordered evaluation by a mental health professional familiar with Parental Alienation as early as possible. 
  • Parent Alienation may well be more of a relationship dysfunction than a mental disease but at what point does it morph into a disorder that is or should be included in the DSM?  This really pertains to the children who can develop debilitating mental and emotional disorders throughout the remainder of their lives.  See Adult Victims Of Parental Alienation.


In summary, it appears that the psychiatric community does understand and is concerned about Parental Alienation. They just seem to believe that it is not a true medical syndrome but a dysfunctional relationship between children and the alienated parent. Therefore, the condition should not be included in the DSM as a syndrome.  The manual does, however, acknowledge the disorders associated with parental alienation.  It's recognition of the problem and the potential ramifications should help legitimize complaints and exert pressure on family courts to treat the problem seriously.

Our courts and mental health professionals need to have better methods to recognize alienation and treat the individuals afflicted with the underlying personalty disorders.  Both groups need to be better trained and sensitized to alienation dynamics and the devastation experienced by the targets and children.

Dr. Craig Childress presents a comprehensive analysis of the alienation dynamic and the DSM.  Click on the link to jump to his site. It is exceptionally educational.

Table of Contents

Alienator Personality Types And Parental Alienation
Alienator Personality Types Perpetrate Parental Alienation
Personality Disorders And Parental Alienation
Personality Disorders Play A Significant Role In Parent Alienation
Convergent Emotional Disorders
The convergence Of Emotional Disorders Can Be The Key To Parental Alienation
Family Dynamics' Significance In Alienation
Family Dynamics And Individual Personalities Are Significant Factors In Parental Alienation
Child Advocacy Is Failing Families Battling Against Parental Alienation
Child Advocacy is Is Failing Families Battling Against Parental Alienation
Therapeutic Intervention In Parental Alienation
Early Therapeutic Intervention May Prevent Parent Alienation
Parental Alienation Destroyed My Family
A Carefully Executed Plan Of Parental Alienation Destroyed My Family
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