IPT Book Reviews

Title: The Parental Alienation Syndrome: A Guide for Mental Health and Legal Professionals (Second Edition)  Positive Review Positive Review
Author: Richard A. Gardner
Publisher: Creative Therapeutics, Inc., 1998

Creative Therapeutics, Inc.
155 County Rd.
Cresskill, NJ 07626-0522
(800) 544-6162
$35.00 (p)

Possibly the most significant insight Richard Gardner offers in this 440-page second edition is, "The PAS [Parental Alienation Syndrome] is a relatively new disorder, having evolved primarily from recent changes in the criteria by which primary custodial placement is decided" (p. xxxiii). This puts it in the classification of unintended consequence. Everybody has some sense that things never anticipated can begin to happen, but it remains quite difficult for persons to both recognize, adapt to, and change whatever can be changed. The PAS then takes on the characteristics of a system error, in which an event can trigger a cascade of consequences that quickly get out of control and produce disaster. An example may be the nuclear power reactor accidents and some airline crashes.

The Parental Alienation Syndrome has generated controversy. Some of this is due to Gardner's use of the term "syndrome." In addition, much of the controversy surrounding PAS may be generated by the resistance to recognizing unintended consequences and the difficulty in trying to think how to respond effectively to the reality. Gardner deals quite handily with the major points of the criticisms that have been made.

It is also the case that any judge, lawyer, or mental health professional knows that a frequent development in custody conflicts is that the child becomes a battleground and can be swept up into the conflict. That cannot be gainsaid. Whatever may be said about the name to use, the behavior is real and it is a serious problem. It is a problem because it is damaging to children.

This second edition also is able to refer to a growing number of research studies and legal opinions that support and clarify the concept and the behaviors that form the syndrome. Nothing has yet falsified the observations and the concepts Gardner has put forth. Instead, it is becoming more clear that his formulations and observations likely meet the Frye test and the U. S. Supreme Court Daubert ruling for admissibility.

This book is required reading for anyone who deals with the tragedy of divorce, custody conflicts, and the need to make recommendations and/or decisions in that environment. It is not necessary to agree with everything suggested by Gardner, but it is necessary to know what he is talking about. Anything less is to fail to consider and uphold the best interests and the welfare of the children involved when there is behavior that approaches this description.

Reviewed by Ralph Underwager, Institute for Psychological Therapies.

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