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Conference to highlight ‘parental alienation’

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MONTREAL — It’s no surprise that far too often in contentious child custody cases, it’s the children who pay the highest price – especially when one parent tries to pit the child against the other parent.

But does such an attempt to qualify as a bona fide psychiatric disorder, called “parental alienation syndrome,” or PAS?

That’s one of the questions that will be addressed at an upcoming Montreal conference on parental alienation organized by the Canadian Symposium for Parental Alienation Syndrome (CSPAS) – May 28-29 at Dawson College.

For CSPAS founder Joseph Goldberg, the answer is an unambiguous yes.

Speaking by telephone to The CJN recently, Goldberg, who is 58 and lives in Toronto (and Florida), was adamant in his belief that PAS should indeed qualify as a psychiatric condition deserving inclusion in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association.

The DSM-5 – the “5” is for fifth edition – is due out in 2013.

“There’s no question about it,” said Goldberg, who spent years in court contending with alienation issues involving his ex-wife and children. “There are three basic ways [PAS] could get into the DSM – as a mental illness, relationship problem, or as something that needs further study.

“If it is included, I think it will probably be as a ‘relationship problem.’”

The term PAS, Goldberg noted, was first coined in the early 1980s by the late American child psychiatrist Richard Gardner to describe a child who has been successfully estranged by one parent against the other and acts out on it by expressing unjustified hatred and resentment. The alienated child might even refuse to see the other parent.

But while most everyone – including courts and mental health professionals – recognize that parental alienation itself exists, having it recognized as a bona fide clinical condition or “syndrome” is another matter entirely.

Mental health experts are divided over PAS due to a lack of scientific study, including in Canada. And while family courts often take parental alienation into account in family law proceedings, the alienation “syndrome,” because it has no official status in the DSM, is considered inadmissible in court. But Goldberg and his group, which was founded three years ago, continue to lobby for inclusion of PAS in the DSM.

“Over the last 25 years, there’s been much greater advancement in the thinking,” Goldberg said, “and other countries – like Spain – have recognized PAS as a mental illness.”

In Brazil, since 2010, there are criminal sanctions for alienating a child.

In Montreal, the focus will be on, “treatment solutions for the alienated child.”

One important local participant will be a keynote speaker, clinical psychologist Abraham Worenklein, who will address the topic “Cutting the Suit to Fit the Alienated Child,” and will discuss being able to properly distinguish between “‘realistic and justifiable’ estrangement and true alienation.”

Worenklein has been summoned to testify in Canadian and U.S. courts as an expert witness on parental alienation.

Other scheduled participants include British Columbia media personality Pamela Richardson; Columbia University developmental psychologist Amy Baker; Vanderbilt University forensic psychiatrist Dr. William Bernet; parental alienation and child custody expert J. Michael Bone; Joyce Major, founder of Stop Parental Alienation of Children, and several other leading figures on the issue of parental alienation, such as Douglas Dartnall, Richard Sauber, Terence Campbell and Glenn Ross Caddy.

The conference, Goldberg said, is geared for mental health experts, lawyers and jurists, family mediators, as well as interested members of the public.

Individuals who wish to attend can register online at www.cspas.ca, or by calling 646-723-1429.

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