THE TRUTH ABOUT PARENTAL ALIENATION SYNDROME AND THE AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGICAL ASSOCIATION
Statement by Professor Joan S. Meier, Esq. (November 9, 2005)
Father’s rights commentator Glenn Sacks and others are touting the American Psychological Association’s (APA’s) recent statement that they have not taken any “official position” on parental alienation syndrome (PAS), and are claiming that the APA has stated that Breaking the Silence: Children’s Stories, and Professor Joan Meier, a Professor of Clinical Law at George Washington University Law School, are “incorrect” in stating that the APA has “discredited” and “thoroughly debunked” (respectively) PAS.
In fact, the only official APA statement that has been released on this subject is the following:
The American Psychological Association (APA) believes that all mental health practitioners as well as law enforcement officials and the courts must take any reports of domestic violence in divorce and child custody cases seriously. An APA 1996 Presidential Task Force on Violence and the Family noted the lack of data to support so-called “parental alienation syndrome,” and raised concern about the term’s use. However, we have no official position on the purported syndrome (emphasis in the original).
APA Office of Public Affairs, October 28, 2005, available at
Far from supporting Sacks’ claims, the APA’s statement is consistent with the film’s criticism of the mis-use of PAS in custody litigation.
Moreover, the following should also be noted:
APA does not adopt “official positions” on matters such as this. Leading members of the APA have noted that the APA Board and Council never take an “official position” on a diagnosis. PAS is considered a diagnosis and therefore would never be the subject of an official vote of that sort. The APA’s statement that it takes no “official position” on PAS means nothing more than that it takes no official position on any diagnosis.
APA’s authoritative Report on Violence in the Family pointedly criticizes the misuse of PAS in domestic violence cases and unequivocally finds that there is no scientific evidence of such a “syndrome.” In 1996 a leading task force of the APA published a widely disseminated and relied-upon report: Titled “Violence and the Family,” written by the American Psychological Association Presidential Task Force on Violence and the Family, and published by the American Psychological Association, it is based on a comprehensive review of the literature and research on violence in the family.
The Report states, among other things:
“When children reject their abusive fathers, it is common for the batterer and others to blame the mother for alienating the children. They often do not understand the legitimate fears of the child. Although there are no data to support the phenomenon called parental alienation syndrome, in which mothers are blamed for interfering with their children’s attachment to their fathers, the term is still used by some evaluators and courts to discount children’s fears in hostile and psychologically abusive situations.”
The Report further states:
“Family courts often do not consider the history of violence between the parents in making custody and visitation decisions. In this context, the nonviolent parent may be at a disadvantage . . . Psychological evaluators not trained in domestic violence may contribute to this process by ignoring or minimizing the violence and by giving inappropriate pathological labels to women’s responses to chronic victimization. Terms such as “parental alienation” may be used to blame the women for the children’s reasonable fear of or anger toward their violent father.”
The Task Force Report, like other APA Reports, is correctly viewed as a statement of “the APA.”The copyright statement for the Report states “[t]his material may be reproduced in whole or in part without fees or permission, provided that acknowledgment is made to the American Psychological Association.”
The Task Force Report was produced by the leading experts in the APA under the auspices of the APA. This authoritative Report is routinely cited for these propositions (and many others) throughout the fields of law, social sciences, and others, as a statement of the American Psychological Association. The Task Force Report will undoubtedly continue to be cited and relied upon by thousands of researchers for the many informative and objective analyses of family violence it contains. This Report is the sole authoritative statement on this subject issued by the APA.
The APA has also discussed the mis-use of PAS in domestic violence cases in a more recent “APA Online” document. “Issues and Dilemmas in Family Violence,” http://www.apa.org/pi/pii/issues/homepage.html, in Issue 5, contains a substantial discussion that is relevant in its entirety to this issue, but is too long to reproduce here. Suffice it to say that it includes the following:
“Family courts frequently minimize the harmful impact of children’s witnessing violence between their parents and sometimes are reluctant to believe mothers. If the court ignores the history of violence as the context for the mother’s behavior in a custody evaluation, she may appear hostile, uncooperative, or mentally unstable. . . Psychological evaluators who minimize the importance of violence against the mother, or pathologize her responses to it, may accuse her of alienating the children from the father and may recommend giving the father custody in spite of his history of violence.”
This document too speaks for the APA. The Introduction to this document makes clear that it too, reflects a position of the APA: “Psychology provides a unique perspective for understanding and stopping family abuse and violence, and the APA joins a host of other professional groups expressing grave concerns about the magnitude and the effects of family violence.”
The use of the word “syndrome” and the reliance on expert witnesses to present this evidence in court makes clear that PAS is propounded and applied as a scientific concept. Both the scientific basis and the validity of its use in cases concerning abuse have been “thoroughly debunked” by both the APA and numerous other expert sources. See attached Authorities Providing Scientific Critiques of PAS.
The statement in the film, that the majority of litigated custody cases involve a history of domestic violence, is based on numerous empirical studies. Of course statistics do not tell us what is true in any particular case. See attached Authorities Addressing history of violence in contested custody litigation.