PAS in Peer-reviewed journals

Articles & Essays


The parental alienation syndrome (PAS) is a disorder that arises primarily in the context of child-custody disputes. Its primary manifestation is the child’s campaign of denigration against a good, loving parent, a campaign that has no justification. It results from the combination of a programming (brainwashing) parent’s indoctrinations and the child’s own contributions to the vilification of the target parent. When true parental abuse and/or neglect is present the child’s animosity may be justified, and so the parental alienation syndrome diagnosis is not applicable.
…The child’s alienation has less to do with bona fide animosity or even hatred of the alienated parent, but more to do with the fear that if such acrimony is not exhibited, the alienating parent will reject the child.

Gardner. R. (2002). Denial of the Parental Alienation Syndrome Also Harms Women. American Journal of Family Therapy 30(3):191-202


The consensus that a child’s unreasonable alienation from a parent is a problem does not extend to the issue of how to conceptualize the problem. Wallerstein finds the term PAS unnecessary and believes that the problem is subsumed under her concept of “overburdened children” who must attend to the needs of disturbed parents at the expense of their own psychological development (2, 21). She does, however, introduce the term “Medea Syndrome” to refer to vindictive parents who destroy their child’s relationship with the ex-spouse (21). Other authors conceptualize the phenomenon as a vulnerable child’s maladaptive reaction to a high conflict divorce (22). This “high conflict model” accepts the utility of a separate classification for alienated children. It uses terms such as “unholy alliances” and “extreme forms of parent alienation” in place of PAS (23; pp. 174, 202). The high conflict model differs from Gardner’s conceptualization in that greater emphasis is placed on the child’s psychological vulnerabilities and the contributions of the entire family system to the child’s alienation. By contrast, some authors place greater emphasis on the behavior of alienating parents and distinguish their destructive behavior (labeled “parent alienation”) from PAS which is one possible outcome of such behavior (24).
Kelly and Johnston expressed concern that PAS oversimplifies the causes of alienation and that Gardner’s formulation leads to confusion and misuse in litigation (25). To remedy these flaws, they drew on their considerable clinical and mediation experience with divorced families to propose a reformulation of PAS which they call “the alienated child” (hereinafter referred to as the AC model).
Given the volume of published references to PAS, we can expect that it will continue to be raised in custody and access litigation. Future empirical research should help resolve some of the current controversies by providing data on the reliability and validity of PAS, the effectiveness of various interventions, and the long-term course of parental alienation.
Warshak, R. (2001). Current controversies regarding parental alienation syndrome. American Journal of Forensic Psychology, 19, 3, p. 29-59.
Alternative Models of the Problem of Alienated Children