The Problem of Diagnosing Parental Alienation

Courts and professionals admit and acknowledge that the problem of one parent alienating children against the other parent is common and damaging to the well-being of the effected children. However it is rarely acted upon by the courts due to it currently not being recognised by any government authority in the UK. Professionals continue to see such conflict as a child custody issue, as opposed to a child protection issue. Professionals do not view parental alienation as a mental health issue. Herein lies the problem.

However a small but significant change has recently taken place. Parental alienation is now included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). The DSM serves as a universal authority for psychiatric diagnoses.

DSM-5 authors Dr. Narrow and Dr. Wamboldt state in a scientific paper in 2016 that parental alienation may be diagnosed as Child Affected by Parental Alienation Distress (V61.29) if one is talking about the child. If one is talking about a parent alienating their child parental alienation may be diagnosed as Child Psychological Abuse (V995.51). This, they argue confirms that parental alienation is indeed in the DSM-5.

Furthermore the authors explain why they refrained from using the phrase parental alienation. Their fear was that an ill-informed mental health professional might misdiagnose something as parental alienation when, in reality, there could be sexual abuse, physical abuse or exposure to domestic violence.

However it could be argued that this in turn contributes to the opposite problem. Countless children are being psychologically abused by parental alienation because of a lack of recognition of parental alienation in the context of mental health.

To conclude, my argument is that with the inclusion of parental alienation in the DSM-5 there should now be a bigger push for professionals to recognise parental alienation as a mental health issue. And once treated as such there should be appropriate assessments, diagnoses and subsequent treatments and interventions. There is an immediate need for a greater understanding and recognition of parental alienation in the interests of protecting children from psychological abuse.

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