Amy J.L. Baker Ph.D.

Caught Between Parents

Real Facts About Parental Alienation

Misunderstandings and misperceptions about parental alienation

Posted Dec 22, 2015

Dr. Jennifer Baker has posted on her blog this week some comments about parental alienation. Unfortunately, the other Dr. Baker has made some statements about parental alienation that cry out for correction. But first let me say that I do not know the facts of the case about which she writes. I don’t have access to the case file and thus at no time will I say that this is a case of parental alienation or not. I simply don’t know.

What I do know is that the Dr. Baker got some things wrong about parental alienation. First, she says, “But that is no matter for fans of ‘parental alienation syndrome.’ They say that whether or not there are reasons for disliking an estranged parent, doing so is evidence of brainwashing.” This is patently false. I know of no bona fide parental alienation expert who would claim that the child’s reasons for disliking a parent are irrelevant. In fact, all bona fide PA experts endorse the concept that it is vital to understand the child’s reasons for visitation/contact refusal. Specifically, it is essential to determine whether the child has been abused or neglected by the parent whom the child is rejecting/resisting.

A second misstatement made is the following: “But what would seem to matter legally is that its advocates have no evidence, zero, for any effectiveness of the ‘anti-brainwashing’ approach they recommend (and courts like Gorcyca's order).” There are in fact two articles published in peer reviewed journals about the effectiveness of efforts to intervene in cases of alienation (we don’t refer to it as anti-brainwashing).

Third, and related to the first is her statement about PA experts that: “They write that children who ‘rationally and irrationally’ dislike an estranged parent need to removed from the care of the parent they love. That is even if the children are in all observable, outward ways flourishing.” This is false in that: (1) PA experts take into account the reason the child rejects a parent and (2) Nor do we believe that all cases of PA should result in removal from the home of the alienating/favored parent. That approach is generally reserved for children who are severely alienated.

Fourth, Dr. Baker wrote: PA experts “mock the idea that this could be traumatizing” I don’t know any PA expert who would belittle the child’s fear and discomfort at being removed from the home of the favored parent, even though in cases of severe alienation, we generally recommend that response. To say that we mock the child’s pain is both untrue and unkind.

Fifth, Dr. Baker states that we “go so far as to point out that research on ‘attachment’ with parents does not look into situations of ‘parental alienation syndrome.’” I am confused by this statement because I have personally studied and written about the relationship between attachment and parental alienation, as far back as my 2007 book “Adult children of parental alienation syndrome: Breaking the ties that bind.”

Sixth, she states: “You might think they are accusing the loved parent of having a personality disorder. But as fits with the general approach, they shy away from anything that could be disproven. The parents they target can be demonstrably shown to not have personality disorders, after all. That must seem too risky. So PAS researchers just call the loved parent a ‘pathogen’ and that's that.” This too is baffling since many PA experts point out the likelihood that alienating parents have personality disorders.

And finally, Dr. Baker writes, ‘Parental Alienation Syndrome’ was invented by a therapist who also thought pedophilia should be normalized, blamed on a child, and that sexual abuse itself is not a harm.” The link provided by Dr. Baker is to a website which lists quotes – many taken out of context – by Dr. Gardner, the person who coined the term Parental Alienation Syndrome. As an example of something taken out of context, the quote provided on the website is: “Pedophilia has been considered the norm by the vast majority of individuals in the history of the world.” If one reads the book from which this quote is taken, it is clear that Dr. Gardner did not endorse the practice, nor did he think it should be normalized, only that in some cultures it is accepted practice. But, even if it were true that Dr. Gardner endorsed pedophilia that would not on the face of it call into question the concept of parental alienation. While Dr. Gardner coined the term, the problem had been identified decades before he began to write about it. He did not “invent” it as Dr. Baker writes.

There is certainly much to be concerned about with respect to family courts. Judges are not nearly as accountable as they should be and they have far too much judicial discretion. The two Dr. Bakers could probably find common ground and I welcome an ongoing discussion about this case in particular and generally how we can best help families when children resist contact with a parent.