A real-life case of character assassination in PAS: Richard Gardner, MD   5 comments

GardnerRichard pix

Richard Gardner, MD was an American psychiatrist best known for proposing in 1985 the name, “Parental Alienation Syndrome” (PAS).

Gardner’s ideas and writings about Parental Alienation Syndrome have been denounced as “junk science”.  The most prominent argument is that PAS is not listed in the DSM Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

While the name “Parental Alienation Syndrome” is not mentioned in the DSM, the more accurate statement is that PAS has not yet been included in the diagnostic manual. Other conditions have taken years before being included in the DSM. Gille de La Tourette first described his syndrome in 1885. It was not until 1980, 95 years later, that Tourette Syndrome entered the DSM. Asperger first described his syndrome in 1957. It was not until 1994, 37 years later, that it was accepted into DSM-IV.

Vilified as he is for his contributions to PAS, Richard Gardner ironically wasn’t the first to describe it. Although Gardner coined the term “Parental Alienation Syndrome”, It was Wilhelm Reich who first discussed one parent alienating the child against the other parent. in his book, Character Analysis,, Reich (p. 265) spoke of divorced parents who defend themselves against narcissistic injury by fighting for custody of their child and defaming their former spouse and that these parents seek “revenge on the partner through robbing him or her of the pleasure in the child. […] In order to alienate the child from the partner, it is told that the partner is an alcoholic or psychotic, without there being any truth to such statements.”

Reich (1949) also questioned the alienating parent’s love of the child. “The lack of any consideration of the child is expressed in the fact that the child’s love for the other partner is not taken into account” [p. 265].

 The first formal studies on what would later be called Parental Alienation Syndrome were published by Judith Wallerstein and Joan Kelly in their 1976 paper, The effects of parental divorce: Experiences of the child in later latency in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. In 1980, Wallerstein and Kelly described children in their research studies who “were particularly vulnerable to being swept up into the anger of one parent against the other. They were faithful and valuable battle allies in efforts to hurt the other parent. Not infrequently, they turned on the parent they had loved and been very close to prior to the marital separation” (Wallerstein and Kelly; p.77).

Despite these earlier descriptions, it was Gardner’s detailed account of the strategies and manifestations of the phenomenon, along with his guidelines for intervention by courts and therapists that captured the attention of those who argue that PAS is “junk science”.  and that it is a clever strategy that endangers children. As its most visible point man, Richard Gardner was targeted by those who oppose PAS as a valid concept Ironically, Gardner has, himself, been denigrated and vilified for his contributions to understanding the unjustified denigration and vilification of targeted mothers and fathers.

The website, CincinattiPAS.com, makes an ad homnen attack on Richard Gardner. An ad homnen attack personally attacks the individual, casting doubt on his or her character or personal attributes as a way to discredit the individual’s argument. Ad homnen attacks are considered logical fallacies that attempt to undermine someone’s case without actually having to engage it.

The CincinattiPAS.com, website begins by announcing that it is debunking Richard Gardner and PAS. It then shows a hand holding a knife and states (correctly) that Gardner committed suicide by plunging a knife into his own neck and chest with the implication, later stated more explicitly, that he must have been crazy. However, the website does not indicate that Dr. Gardner’s son Andrew, reported that his father had been suffering from type I complex regional pain syndrome, a chronic systemic disease characterized by severe pain, swelling, and changes in the skin.

Next, we see a picture of a devil with a quote from Richard Gardner that pedophilia is a widespread and accepted practice among billions of people. This is followed by a headline, “Has Psychiatry Gone Psycho?”

The, CincinattiPAS.com website is taking Gardner’s quote out of context. The quote comes from an earlier paper on a topic different from Parental Alienation Syndrome. Gardner wrote the paper, “A Theory About The Variety of Human Sexual Behaviour” in 1996 long before he coined the term Parental Alienation Syndrome in 1985. Gardner never condoned pedophilia. In “Misinformation vs. Facts about Richard A. Gardner, M.D”, Dr. Gardner, himself, wrote:

“This is my position on pedophilia: I consider pedophilia to be a form of psychiatric disturbance. Furthermore, I consider those who perpetrate such acts to be exploiting innocent victims with little, if any, sensitivity to the potential effects of their behavior on their child victims. Many are psychopathic, as evidenced by their inability to project themselves into the position of the children they have seduced, and ignore the potential future consequences on the child of their abominable behavior.

… I do believe, however, that pedophilia, like all other forms of atypical sexuality, is part of the human repertoire and that all humans are born with the potential to develop any of the forms of atypical sexuality….. My acknowledgment that a form of behavior is part of the human potential is not an endorsement of that behavior. Rape, murder, sexual sadism, and sexual harassment are all part of the human potential. This does not mean I sanction these abominations.
I have noted the historical fact that pedophilia has been and still continues to be a widespread phenomenon. Unfortunately, this has been interpreted by some to indicate that I condone the practice. This is the equivalent that saying that those who note the ubiquity of rape and murder are thereby condoning these atrocities.”

The, CincinattiPAS.com website next goes on to state that if a child demonstrates negative feelings toward the father, Gardner blames the mother and suggests, as a remedy, increasing the child’s time with the father. Such criticism in this website shows an ignorance of how Gardner and others actually define PAS.

According to Gardner’s formulation, if a parent’s behavior does warrant the children’s alienation, this is not a case of PAS. In a number of articles and books Richard Gardner discussed PAS with certain essential components:

  1. The child – without apparent guilt – persistently rejects, denigrates and vilifies the targeted parent and asserts that the rejection is justified.
  2. One of the parents influences and manipulates the child to turn against the other, formerly loved, parent.
  3. The resulting estrangement between the child and the rejected parent is unjustified by the behavior of the rejected parent.

PAS does not apply when any of these components is absent. Some critics of PAS mistakenly equate PAS with only the first component – the child rejecting the parent. They thereby create a “straw man” in which PAS is a biased strategy designed to sow confusion and excuse men from their abusive behavior. Such critics, themselves, are confused about what is meant by Parental Alienation Syndrome. If a child demonstrates negative feeling toward a parent, without evidence of the other two components, i.e., a) of an alienating parent manipulating the child to turn against the target parent and b) the child’s estrangement from the rejected parent being unjustified by the behavior of the rejected parent, it is not PAS.

The, CincinattiPAS website thus creates a “straw man” by stating only the premise of a child demonstrating negative feelings toward the father without the other two essential components of PAS. The, CincinattiPAS website goes on to call Parental Alienation Syndrome “Junk Science”.

By what authority is the allegation of  “Junk Science” made? An ever-growing number of legal and mental health professionals are writing articles on PAS and citing it in courts of law.

  • A Google searchand Gardner’s own website contain numerous peer-reviewed studies.
  • The American Psychological Association (APA) (1994), in a draft version of the Guidelines for Child Custody Evaluations in Divorce Proceedings, quotes three of Gardner’s books:
    • “Family evaluation in child custody mediation, arbitration, and litigation”
    • “The parental alienation syndrome: A guide for mental health and legal professionals”
    • “True and false accusations of child abuse”

Finally, neither the American Psychological Association nor the American Psychiatric Association has taken the postition that PAS is junk science. Nevertheless, the failure to include PAS as a diagnosis in the DSM-5 diagnostic manual is used as an argument that PAS is not accepted. However the proposal that Parental Alienation be included as a formal diagnosis was made to the DSM-5 Task Force and published in the peer-reviewed American J. of Family Therapy (Bennet et al. 2010.) The authors developed a bibliography of around 900 references from the professional literature of 36 countries on six continents.

The  DSM-5 Task Force, however, chose not to include the actual words, “Parental Alienation” 5, stating that a similar diagnosis did exist in  DSM-5:

  • Parent Child Relational Problem whose description includes “negative attributes to the other’s intentions, hostility, toward or scapegoating of the other, and unwarranted feelings of estrangement.”
  • Child Psychological Abuse which is as “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”

Furthermore, the following additional DSM-5 diagnoses may also be applicable in some cases of Parental Alienation Syndrome: Child affected by parental relationship distress

  • Delusional symptoms in partner of individual with delusional disorder
  • Factitious disorder imposed on another

Thus, the DSM-5 now provides several official diagnoses which can be considered in cases of Parental Alienation Syndrome. In contrast to the DSM-IV, the concept of Parental Alienation Syndrome is clearly included in the DSM-5 but not by name.

The CincinattiPAS website implies that the promotion of PAS protects abusive parents, does not protect children who have witnessed domestic violence, and puts them in jeopardy of having increased time with the abusive parent. Concerned about such misuse of his own ideas, Gardner published several books and articles on how to distinguish a child suffering from abuse from one suffering from PAS.  In a 2002 article in the American Journal of Family Therapy, Gardner criticized the misuse of PAS. “Attorneys frequently select out-of-context material in order to enhance their positions in courts of law… “

In “Misinformation vs. Facts about Richard A. Gardner, M.D”, Dr. Gardner, himself, wrote:

  • The implication of this criticism, however, is that I somehow am responsible for such misrepresentation of the PAS by these abusers. PAS exists, as does child abuse. There will always be those who will twist a contribution for their own purposes. Chapter nine in the second edition of my book The Parental Alienation Syndrome (Gardner, 1998) provides evaluators with detailed criteria for differentiating between true abusers and PAS indoctrinators.
    Criticism has been directed at me because some mental health professionals and courts of law are misusing the PAS and exonerating bona fide abusers by claiming that the children’s animosity toward them is the result of PAS indoctrinations by the other parent. Again, I am somehow being blamed for this.

Self-Publishing and “The color of Parental Alienation Syndrome is green.”

The CincinattiPAS website shows a photo of a man’s hands holding and states that Gardner not only began self-publishing through his own company but also used Parental Alienation Syndrome for “Testifying as an expert witness in custody cases for $500 an hour, almost exclusively for fathers.”

  • Dr. Gardner did self-publish through Creative Therapeutics. The implication is that Creative Therapeutics is some kind of a vanity press. However, between 1960 and 1968 he published books with Bantam Books, Jason Aronson, Inc, Avon Books, Doubleday, Prentice-Hall, and G. P. Putnam’s.
  • “Testifying as an expert witness in custody cases for $500 an hour, almost exclusively for fathers.”
    • Gardner’s fees were higher than average, but commensurate with that of people at his level of experience and expertise.  He also did a significant amount of pro bono work.
    • The claim that he testified almost exclusively for fathers cannot be reasonably substantiated by anything Gardner has written, lectured on, or testified to in court.  In “MISPERCEPTIONS VERSUS FACTS ABOUT RICHARD A. GARDNER, M.D.”, Dr. Gardner (1999) wrote that he testified on behalf of both women and men who had been victimized by PAS-inducing ex-spouses.  In fact, in later years, the number of PAS-inducing men against whom he testified had increased to a ratio of about 50/50.
    • The CincinattiPAS website states that Gardner is broadly (but mistakenly) blelieved to be a full professor at a prestigious university.
      • Fact: Dr. Gardner was promoted to the rank of full professor at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1983.

Parental Alienation Syndrome is characterized by the character assassination of the targeted parent. Ironically, Richard Gardner met similar attacks against his character, which did not address the case he made for one parent turning a child against the other parent. He was not the first to describe this phenomenon but did coin the term “Parental Alienation Syndrome”. He was its most visible spokesman. I have pointed out the logical fallacy of ad hominem attacks, which assault the person instead of addressing his ideas. It remains a curious fact that so many women are victimized by ex-husband alienators and so many women believe in the validity of PAS. Yet a great deal of mythology persists that Parental Alienation Syndrome is not real. There have to be reasons for the aggressive opposition to Parental Alienation Syndrome. Do you have any ideas why?


Reich, W. Character analysis. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1949

Wallerstein JS, Kelly, JB: Surviving the Breakup. New York, Basic Books, 1980

American Psychological Association: Guidelines for Child Custody Evaluations in Divorce Proceedings (1994)


5 responses to “A real-life case of character assassination in PAS: Richard Gardner, MD

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  1. One thing I never see mentioned is how Dr. Gardner’s practice offered an unusual chance to observe first-hand the workings of mechanics like PAS. Much of Dr. Gardner’s income came from being hired as an expert witness in custody disputes. He actually took to heart the idea that the child’s best interests were at stake, and refused to be put in the position of shilling — intentionally or not — for an undeserving parent. When my then-wife and I hired Dr. Gardner during her dispute with her ex, it was a bet, not a sure thing. We paid for all the sessions, but the contract we signed said that if he felt the other party was more deserving of custody, Dr. Gardner would become their expert witness, at our expense. Because Dr. Gardner was known for jumping across the aisle, Bergen County, NJ judges trusted his word implicitly. Oh, and his technique required both parents to be at all interview sessions except those in which Dr. Gardner interviewed the children alone, and he required that the sessions continue until both parents stated outright that his and her views had been given full measure and no more sessions were needed. He was intensely curious about how the fighting parents interacted, and his heart was open even as his mind was clear. Because my wife’s ex saw a way to manipulate the scheme, we were forced to meet for nearly two years and probably 50 times — all at our expense — before the interviewing was allowed to end. It frustrated Dr. Gardner to no end that the ex played this game, but a system is a system and a contract is a contract! Of course Dr. Gardner issued a report that favored my wife retaining custody, but we wouldn’t have hired him if we hadn’t thought it a pretty sure bet! Still, our lawyer who guided us to him knew of a number of cases where Dr. Gardner turned the tables. He was courageous, and he saw a lot more of what happens in the nitty-gritty of a divorce than the typical couples counselor, who’s only in on the action up to the point of secession, not after the civil war weapons are bared.

    • Thank you for this fascinating insight into your own personal experience with Dr. Gardner. It is gratifying to hear a first-hand account of Dr. Gardner’s ethical practice in a field in which he has been vilified.

  2. I agree. Richard Gardner was an extremely courageous man who refused to pipe down about his beliefs despited the huge amount of opposition he was up against both in the field of psychology and legal. The phenomenon known as PAS the term that he coined is true. You only have to be a target parent to know this which I have been as mother for 14 years. A real shame it didn’t get into the DSMV but let’s hope with more peer review articles, books etc. this will be more recognized in the courts and he will in years to come receive the acclaim that he deserves posthumously.

  3. The term is ad hominem (to the man).

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