The Strange Advocacy for “Parental Alienation Syndrome”

A Perfect Tool for Harming Children

Posted Dec 17, 2015

Michigan Family Court Judge Lisa Gorcyca, working in concert with friends and lawyers, has banned three children from seeing their mother for months, but without any evidence against the mother. The story has repeatedly made national news headlines since the Judge also happened to jail these children for contempt of court. 

The Judge’s poor ethics, manner, and understanding of the law is being reviewed, thankfully, by Michigan authorities who have filed a complaint against her. 

But her method will not get attention in that process. Her method is to cite “parental alienation syndrome” as the reason she does not need any evidence against the mother in order to deem her abusive.

That’s right, the judge has no evidence of the mother’s abuse. That is why she jailed the children, I suppose. (On second thought, her animus was clearly against the children, too. She called them names, for example, and seemed very happy to jail them and make all sorts of threats against them.)

The children regularly saw their father when he’d visit, but they disliked him. They say he hits and kicks them. Their school called CPS to report abuse while they have been living with him this fall. He, of course, wanted them in juvenile detention for not being lively enough with him and now he wants them in foster care rather than letting them go home to their mom. So no one could say the children are irrational to dislike their dad.

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. (My source is the most recent publication by the most reputable researcher of PAS: Warshak 2015). 

We now have survivors of Family Court who have been jailed as minors for not wanting to live with their father, and they are very good at explaining what “PAS” is really about. They were not brainwashed. 

The origins of the view are as unseemly as you can imagine. I’ll get to those in a moment. 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). 

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.

They mock the idea that this could be traumatizing, and go so far as to point out that research on “attachment” with parents does not look into situations of “parental alienation syndrome.” We can be sure attachment researchers do not study the "anti-brainwashing" sessions run by advocates “parental alienation syndrome"! Who would expect them to? In this case, Judge Gorcyca had a high school graduate with a criminal record do this "anti-brainwashing" over four days in a hotel room for tens of thousands of dollars.This is not the kind of thing research tracks. It is also outrageously unethical medical care.

“Parental alienation syndrome” advocates admit themselves that they have no studies that test the effectiveness of their recommended treatments. Reading them is like reading a merely verbal description of what they think is best, they speculate and then offer actual practice recommendations. You cannot use established evidence to debunk their views, as their views reject non-PAS-based research. For example, they dismiss conventional therapy. It can exacerbate parental alienation! (How convenient!)

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. 

They dismiss common sense. What harm comes from removing children from their home to isolate them from all friends and family in juvenile detention? No harm, say advocates of PAS. What about banning a child from his mother? No harm! It seems the idea that a child would suffer from any of this is just a myth. Warshak argues that none of us have proven these types of things cause trauma

And they, of course, dismiss the child’s own feelings as wrong.

“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 (more here). Would that approach take the claims of children alleging abuse to be true? Of course not. Would that approach give any credence to the harms done to children that common sense recognizes? Of course not. 

This is a pernicious tool for a Judge without ethics. 

Judge Gorcyca jailed and removed children from their home, and in doing so she is perpetuating nothing but an experiment with children through harming them in conventional ways. She is doing this on the basis of zero evidence. 

This should be unacceptable to all of us.

The good news might be that it seems that the US Department of Justice recognizes the problem here. To ban a child from his home and any fit parent creates a “harmful outcome” (for details, see the US Dept. Justice report here). This means the harm from denying the child a relationship with the parent they love is greater than *any possible* benefit "PAS" anti-brainwashing "therapy" promises. 

And isn't this obvious? Or do we have to wait for more children to become adults and tell us?