Last week, I heard on an E-mail list that the DSM-V workgroup is considering adding parental alienation disorder to DSM-V. It was only looking for feedback, so my hope is that enough people have campaigned against this diagnosis that it will not be included.
Parental alienation disorder is a specific set of symptoms, where a child chronically denigrates one parent, usually in the context of custody battles. The child may belittle, accuse or otherwise detach themself from one parent. The assumption is that the disorder is caused by unconscious or conscious indoctrination by one parent against the other, as well as the child’s on personality. Included in parental alienation disorder are false accusations of abuse.
In my opinion, if this were a real concept at all rather than a fantasy to cover up actual child abuse, this should be a psychological concept rather than a psychiatric one. Parental alienation disorder, if it exists, is the manifestation of a dynamic between parents and children, rather than a mental disorder on the part of the child. So, for that reason, it does not belong in a psychiatric handbook like the DSM.
I, personally, do not believe in parental alienation enough to consider it an actual condition at all. Sure, it may happen on occasion, but not on the large scale that proponents assume it occurs.
Besides, even if a child denigrates a parent without reason, this does not mean it has to occur in the context of custody battles or that it is the other parent’s ffault. It may be that a child has an attachment issue, which in the DSM can only be caused in the context of pathological care, but which, in my opinion, can be caused by a number of factors. Also, it may be that a child has a problem with irritability, such as oppositional defiant disorder, and is acting it out specifically towards the less assertive parent.
I do not deny that indoctrination in the context of custody battles happens, but if it does, it is not something the child is responsible for, and therefore does again not reflect a disorder of the child. Rather, if indoctrination is present, the parent doing it has a serious psychological problem, though not a mental disorder. So, rather than concluding that parental alienation is a disorder, look at the broader picture of whether the child may have other issues causing them to act out against one parent, whether either parent has a psychological problem, etc. And please don’t pathologize problematic but non-medical behavior.