Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Amy J.L. Baker Ph.D.
Amy J.L. Baker Ph.D.

Am I Evil?

Does believing in PAS make me a bad person?

Twice in one day I received a blog message asking me or telling me I am an evil person because I believe that Parental Alienation Syndrome is real and because I testify in court to that effect for a fee. The implication is that I am actually doubly evil, first for believing in PAS and second for making money based on that belief. I presume the issue is not really the money because I highly doubt that the people who accuse me of being evil are upset that the experts on “their” side also make money testifying in court. So what is evil is that I believe that PAS is real. As another critic recently put it after I invited her to debate me about some of the claims she is promoting through her group, “You describe yourself as an expert in a pseudo scientific label invented by a pro-pedophile madman that is used to place children with men whom the children describe as their rapists. I find no room for debate, but I will certainly pray for you and the children who are being destroyed.” I asked her if she would like to debate the three claims she made in that e-mail to me (1) PAS is a pseudo science (2) Richard Gardner was a pro-pedophile madman and (3) PAS has led to children being placed with men they claim are rapists. I doubt I will hear back from her but I am hopeful that I will. If I did this is what I would say.

First, according to Wikipedia “Pseudoscience is a claim, belief, or practice which is presented as scientific, but does not adhere to a valid scientific method, lacks supporting evidence or plausibility, cannot be reliably tested, or otherwise lacks scientific status.” Having passed a Daubert hearing on the validity of PAS (In which I had to present to a team of opposing counsel in front of a special master the research basis of PAS), I feel more strongly than ever that PAS is a real and a valid theory. At this point there are hundreds of articles written in peer-reviewed journals about the problem. Even the person who coined the term “PAS is junk science” conceded that PAS exists. Yes there are gaps in the knowledge base. BUT, at this point there is a considerable body of knowledge supporting the central tenets of the theory. Having written a textbook entitled, “Child welfare research methods” published by Columbia University Press I would hazard a guess that I am actually more knowledgeable about what makes something a valid theory and what does not than most of the people who claim that PAS is “junk science.” Moreover, the basic clinical dynamics of PAS theory have been observed by family systems theorists since the 1950s and many of the adverse outcomes of divorce studied outside the field of PAS have been attributable to children’s involvement in parental conflict and children’s experience of loyalty binds. Thus, although the name is relatively new (having been coined by Richard Gardner in the late 1980’s) the phenomenon has been around for decades.

Second, there is absolutely no evidence that Richard Gardner was a pedophile himself or that he was pro-pedophilia. While he wrote some statements that taken out of the context of his body of work could appear to be saying that sexual abuse is not harmful, he never said that it was a good thing and he was very clear that it was not. He was adamant that sexual abuse is exploitation of a child pure and simple. To call him a madman or pro-pedophilia is mud-slinging of the worst kind. Dr. Gardner was a highly respected psychiatrist who wrote books for many of the leading publishers in the field and he created one of the most important clinical tools for child therapists (the feeling thinking doing game). BUT, even if he were a pedophile that would not in and of itself negate his contribution to the field or invalidate the theory of PAS.

Finally, there is an abundance of claims on the internet that abusive parents have used PAS theory to deflect responsibility for their abuse and to wrest custody away from “protective mothers.” I have no doubt that some abusive men have tried to do this. There is actually no data that this has happened on a large scale. However, even if it were true, it defies logic to conclude that something (in this case PAS) does not exist simply because it can be misused. That would be like claiming that sexual abuse does not exist because it is possible for some people to make false allegations. The solution to the problems of false allegations of PAS is not to deny that it exists but to ensure that the proper definition is used. If women who were falsely accused of PAS knew the 8 signs of an alienated child they could – with confidence – respond to these false allegations by showing that their child doesn’t exhibit them (fear of a parent is NOT one of the 8 signs of being alienated). Inclusion of PAS into the DSM, for example would ensure that there was consistency in diagnosis, which should help protect protective mothers and children who have been abused.

I, like the people who accuse me of being evil, want to protect children. The difference between us is that I am willing to admit that one form of child abuse is turning the child against the other parent who has done nothing to warrant the child’s rejection. Based on my research I have concluded that PAS is a form of child abuse and I will continue to conduct research in this field, offer trainings and workshops, and will on occasion testify in court. I would also be willing to debate the PAS detractors with the hopes of finding common ground between us. They call me evil. I call myself a seeker of the truth.

About the Author
Amy J.L. Baker Ph.D.

Amy J.L. Baker, Ph.D., is an author and the director of research at the Vincent J. Fontana Center for Child Protection at the New York Foundling.

My website