Posted in Parentification

The debate around the inclusion of Parental Alienation in DSM-5

Trainee Prize Award Winner
Psychopathology and theconceptualisation of mental disorder:The debate around the inclusion of Parental Alienation in DSM-5
Sue Whitcombe
Content and Focus:
This paper will briefly consider the general conceptualisation of mental disorder before focusing on the specific case of Parental Alienation (PA), variously termed a disorder or a syndrome.By virtue of the recent debate surrounding its potential inclusion in the newest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), this is a topical example. A critical analysis of the petition for its inclusion within DSM-5 will both highlight the range of professionals’ views, and also consider ethical and practical issues inherent in the conceptualisation of a mental disorder and its classification within the evolving DSM. Following this general and specific conceptualisation of mental disorder, the tensions that diagnosis raises for counselling psychology will be briefly deliberated. The positive aspects of classification and diagnosis will be acknowledged, whilst highlighting the focus on the subjective experience of individual clients.
Despite the controversy about the concept, validity and reliability of PA, the evidence suggests that there is more agreement than disagreement among practitioners and professionals in the field. Whilst there is a general consensus that alienation exists within a distinct population who would benefit from intervention, there is no consensus on its inclusion in DSM-5. Irrespective of its inclusion in any nosology,the recent debate has highlighted the need for further research. A greater understanding of the processes,symptoms and behaviours involved in PA will enable the needs of children and families involved in high- conflict separation to be better addressed.

Posted in Alienation


Often, I find myself looking back at my past and wondering when Parental Alienation first started with my parents. All my memories are scattered and blurred from my attempts to block out the bad parts of my life. I used to have a hard time dealing with who I was in my past so much that I didn’t want to recall that part of me ever again. For the longest time I was ashamed of what had happened, what I had done, what I had witnessed, and what I agreed to go along with. It was only after I was doing the finishing touches on my YouTube video, I Am Invictus, that I became proud of my past.

One of my earliest memories was my parents arguing and fighting. I don’t recall what the arguments were about, for all I know they could have been arguing about anything, but I do remember my mom crying a lot and my dad yelling. I was quite oblivious as a child and spent a lot of time in my own imaginary world, but it bothered me when I saw and heard them arguing. Some nights I would sit on the steps and try to listen, other times I would walk into the room and ask them if they were fighting. My dad would turn around and tell me that “they weren’t arguing, they were discussing”. My mom wouldn’t say anything. Eventually I think that they figured out that I was listening and would save their arguments for later, when I had gone to bed. They even made sure to check that I was still asleep when they were done arguing. As a child I was quite gullible, blunt, and innocent. So my parents would come into my room and simply ask if I was asleep and being the silly girl I was, I would answer “yes”. Looking back at it, I think its absolutely hilarious that I couldn’t keep my mouth shut and just blurted the truth out just like that! Eventually, I got a lot better at resisting the urge to answer them and so they would go back to their room and quietly argue a little more.

A few years later, my mom and I moved out. My dad wasn’t home but I’m pretty sure mom told him that she was leaving. Still, she was very panicked and trying to hurry to get her things and mine. Once we had everything packed, we drove to the new house.

The new place wasn’t anything extravagant, but it was cozy. It was a duplex that had two bedrooms, one bathroom, a big living room, and a small kitchen. At first, we brought the two family cats to the condo, Simba and Nala, but they didn’t seem to enjoy the condo at all so we brought them back to live at my dads house. We actually lived ten minutes from my dads house and went there every day anyways. Looking back, I don’t think my dad was too bothered by my mom moving out, she still came to his house to cook and work *note: my mom worked from home* while I did my homework. After dinner, my mom and I would go back to our condo so I could go to bed. It all seemed to be a perfect routine. Right?

Unfortunately it wasn’t.

Even though my parents weren’t under the same roof anymore, they still had fights. They weren’t as often but they seemed to be ten times more aggressive. I remember one time, my mom was driving to my dads on Sunday after we had gone to church. It was wintertime and my mom got stuck in the snow trying to turn onto my dads street. My dad had come outside to greet us and I was already out of the car to see him and to visit my friends while my mom tried to get herself out of the deep snow so she could get to the driveway. She couldn’t get the van to budge one inch so, my mom called out from the van that she was stuck and asked for help.. My dad got mad that she yelled and went over there to argue with her. Not wanting to stick around to watch them fight, I went to see my friends. I’m not sure how long they argued for, but I do remember that being one of the first times where I realized I was starting to feel uncomfortable with my parents when both were at my dads house..

I loved living in the peaceful condo, yeah my dad came over to the condo a few times while we were living there yet I never remember them arguing there. My theory was that my dad was being respectful of the fact that it was my moms home and not his so he couldn’t start something there without her kicking him out if she felt the need to. But it’s just a theory.

I’ve gotten sidetracked. So anyways, after living in the condo for a few years my mom and I moved to a big townhouse. I would miss my old condo but the townhouse was in a safer neighbourhood and it was also bigger. At the condo, we only had a few major issues;

1. Our condo faced onto a major street and was just a few blocks away from a bus station which meant that we would hear the sound of busses going past our house till 2 in the morning and they would start running again at 5 am. Because of this, my mom took the room facing the street but even though she did that I still went to sleep in her bed. *note: I have a very irrational fear of the dark.*

2. Once my older sister stayed with us for a bit. I won’t go into details because I don’t want to disrespect my sisters privacy but basically someone was trying to get to her *note: this person was also drunk* and so we had to call the police to stop this person from banging on the door and yelling and just simply upsetting my sister.

3. As much as I loved my condo, I would be lying if I said that I lived in a great neighbourhood. In the city I live in, I lived in one of the roughest neighbourhoods. It never really affected me because I was never motivated to leave my condo area, everything I needed was there, so I was quite oblivious to how sketchy my area was.

This townhouse was a big change. It was beautiful and spacious. On top of it, this neighbourhood was fancier and had a man-made lake. You could swim, fish, rent paddle boats, and in the wintertime you could go ice skating. During our time at the condo, my mom did do some online dating which is where she eventually met Chris. I met him briefly but he was a soldier and went to Afghanistan soon after my mom met him. I will never forget how my mom would rush to the living room in a panic if there were reports of soldiers killed in Afghanistan, trying to make sure that Chris wasn’t killed in action.

While he was in Afghanistan, my mom and Chris would email each other back and forth. One of the topics that came up was living on a farm, and so mom and I began searching for one. We found beautiful places all around the city but eventually we settled on one that was actually close to my Grandmas house. While we were searching for a new house, I didn’t tell my dad. I don’t remember ever telling my dad when we moved from the condo and into the townhouse so it didn’t seem like a big deal, but at the same time if the townhouse was brought up and we weren’t going to the townhouse, I would lie and say that we were at the townhouse to avoid questioning and conflict.

Honestly looking back at this, I feel so ashamed of lying. I did it to save myself from conflict but some days I can’t help but feel that if I hadn’t lied and just faced my fears of conflict, my parents wouldn’t have had to have gone to court. I feel very responsible for all of the hardships both parents faced. I wish I could go back and change things, but in the end maybe it’s better things went this way. There were a lot of life lessons I learned because of my habit of lying to avoid conflict.

When it was time to move onto the farm, I was pretty excited. My brother, Chris, and my sister came to help us move and it was pretty exciting. In a couple weeks, Chris’s kids would be flying back from Ontario *note: when Chris was on tour, his daughters stayed with their aunt in Ontario* Chris’s daughters were around my age, (in fact, I am only ten days older than the youngest sister, Melissa) so I was very excited to meet them. However, the down side was that we had moved just before I was supposed to start Middle School/Junior High and that was starting an argument with my parents on where I should go for school. My dad wanted me to go to a school which was specialized for artists. When they looked over my grades and my art, they were quite impressed with my art work however my other grades weren’t satisfactory *note: to get into this school, you needed to be a straight A student* I was about to go into Grade 7 but they claimed that my art was something they would expect from a person in Grade 9. It was a big compliment to hear that but the down side was that this school was Downtown which was a long drive from either parents house and I also didn’t have the grades to get in either. So my mom wanted me to go to a different school instead that was close to the townhouse. It was also close to my dads house but moreso to my moms townhouse. In the end, I went to this school. Although, I was very skeptical of it at first.

When Chris’s daughters came home, I found out that they were going to a school close to the farm. I didn’t know anyone at this other school and I really wanted to be close to my soon-to-be-step-sisters. I wanted to go to school with them. So my mom told me that she could try to arrange that. I already knew from both parents that they were going to court so it seemed like everything would be sorted out then. On the day of court, I went to visit at my friends house and my mom said that she would be picking me up.

She didn’t.

When it was time for me to go home, to my surprise it wasn’t my mom waiting for me, it was my dad. My dad brought me to his house and sat me down in the family room, I don’t remember how it was brought up or who brought it up but somehow my dad ended up talking about what happened at court and showed me a court order. As far as I can recall, the only big issue that made the judge rule in dads favour was the fact that my mom had moved to the farm. I was in so much disbelief that I was convinced that the court order was false and that he just made it up. He told me about how the “court was cheering when the judge said that I was to live with him” and that “my mom was furious and stormed out of the room”. I don’t remember much of the rest of the conversation but I do remember going to the kitchen to get a drink and seeing it was nearly 3 in the morning. We had started talking about this at 6pm.

At that time, the court ruled that my dad was to be the primary caregiver, I would see my mom every weekend and would get a call from her every night. I felt awkward in my dads house, I missed my mom and I didn’t understand why I was being separated from her, or why she “was furious and stormed out of the court room”. It was quite troubling to me to hear that she was so upset over this, I could never picture my mom as an angry person and I was scared that she was going to be mad at me. When I did see her that weekend, I asked her if it was a joke, asked why it happened, asked if she was mad, and I asked if she was mad at me now. She explained that she had made a mistake in not telling my dad that she was moving, her lawyer told her that it would be ok. But according to the judge, the farm was too far away from the city and from my dad. She told me that she wasn’t angry in the courts, that she actually nearly cried, and that she wasn’t angry at me then. It was so scary to me that I just started crying like crazy. I just wanted things to go back to the way they were, even if we had to move back to the townhouse, just so long as things went back to being simpler.

I can’t remember if it was the weekend right after the court order came out or if it was a few weekends later, but I started asking my mom to make cookies so I could bring them back with me to my dads. My dad was getting pretty good at making suppers and food but I don’t remember him ever trying to bake. It was nice having a reminder of my mom there too. A few more weekends later, my mom asked me if I enjoyed the cookies, and I told her that I did but I wasn’t sure where they were and that since they were at least a month old, Dad might have thrown them out. This was very upsetting for my mom, after all sending cookies was the only way she could really be there and comfort me at my dads. So when my parents went to court again, my mom brought up the cookies, and so my dad said that he hasn’t thrown them out. He took a picture with the cookies and a newspaper to show that he still had them to this date. I didn’t realize it but the cookies had been put on the top shelf, I couldn’t see them so I assumed they were gone. Of course, the court believed my dad and so things went on. But after my dad got back from court, he talked about the cookies for hours. He told me that my mom was just trying to start conflict because she hated my dad and she is trying to find things to be mad about. He told me that my mom didn’t love me, that she only wanted to hurt him and wanted his money. As a young girl, I was so shocked but in my head, it made sense.. And I hated it. I don’t even know why it made sense but my dad was very good at taking one bit of the truth and twisting it so it worked in his favour. And it worked. I felt so betrayed by my mom after that, I didn’t want to talk to her or open up to her anymore. To me, this is the earliest time that I can pinpoint where Parental Alienation started. I could be wrong, but it seems like the most likely time it occurred.

I didn’t realize it then but this would turn out to be a common occurrence. Arguments and being talked to about petty things. Conflict would only get worse. I would be more and more involved in the court system. And both my parents would continue to fight. It was only the start of something that made us and everyone near us start to fall into this crazy spiral of court dates, documents, psychologists, and lawyers.

And like most long term conflicts, all of this started over something ridiculous; a tin of cookies.

love and respect