Proclamation disorder

Gov. Jim Gibbons has issued a “certificate of recognition” commemorating a psychological malady that many psychologists say does not exist.

In the certificate, Gibbons declares “parental alienation” to be a form of abuse.

Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS), if it exists, is a psychological disorder in which children become obsessed with tensions between parents because one parent tries to turn the child against the other parent.

While no one doubts that some parents do go through tugs of war for the loyalty of children by bad mouthing each other, whether that kind of behavior produces a mental disorder in children is far from settled—and widely doubted. Psychiatrist Richard Gardner, who developed the theory of the syndrome, was recently accused in a bar association journal article of avoiding publication of his work in peer-review publications, instead using self-publication or non-peer reviewed publications.

The American Psychological Association has issued a statement that, while weaselly, is hardly an endorsement of PAS: “An APA 1996 Presidential Task Force on Violence and the Family noted the lack of data to support so-called ‘parental alienation syndrome', and raised concern about the term’s use. However, we have no official position on the purported syndrome.”

However, Gardner’s work has been seized on by men’s rights groups and attorneys for fathers, though many advocates have dropped usage of the term “syndrome.” The Gibbons certificate did not use “syndrome” in its language, which called for “stopping the abuse of innocent children caught in the crossfire” of parents in conflict.

The Nevada Network Against Domestic Violence issued a statement critical of Gibbons for getting into bed with junk science: “PAS theory is ripe for misuse. … Domestic violence survivors rely on the legal system to render impartial judgments in complex custody cases. Such decisions are made more difficult by the introduction of pseudo-scientific classifications by interest groups seeking to further their agendas.”

A spokesperson for the Network said an official document like Gibbons’ certificate could be used in Nevada courts to give an official imprimatur to a claim of a alleged “syndrome” that is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders, the bible of psychiatry.

Certainly PAS lobby groups quickly enlarged on Gibbons’ certificate and then circulated it by various means.

The Parental Alienation Awareness Organization misrepresented Gibbons’s certificate as representing state policy in a news release that began, “Nevada has joined Maine and Iowa in statewide recognition of April 25th as Parental Alienation Awareness Day.” It was posted on Media Press Release, a web site that circulates news released for corporations, organizations, politicians, etc. It was also posted with a second such service, PRNewswire/USNewswire.

In fact, Nevada has no such public policy. The Nevada Legislature has never dealt with the subject.

One of the news releases credited Shawn Evans Sr. of Las Vegas with getting Gibbons to issue the certificate. Evans is founder of PASSAGE—Paternal Alienation Syndrome Support Awareness Group and Education.