The American Psychiatric Association has a hot potato on its hands as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle as the American Psychiatric Association updates its catalog of mental disorders — whether to include parental alienation, a disputed term conveying how a child’s relationship with one estranged parent can be poisoned by the other.

There’s broad agreement that this sometimes occurs, usually triggered by a divorce and child-custody dispute. But there’s bitter debate over whether the phenomenon should be formally classified as a mental health syndrome — a question now before the psychiatric association as it prepares the first complete revision since 1994 of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

The psychiatric association first published its manual of diagnostic disorders, known as the DSM, in 1952. The last major revision was published in 1994 and updated in 2000, and the fifth edition — DSM-5 — is due for publication in May 2013.

Work groups in various fields have been reviewing numerous proposals for additions to the 283 disorders in the current edition. Parental alienation remains on a list of proposals that are subject to further review, though it did not pass muster with the work group dealing with childhood and adolescent disorders.

Dr. William Bernet, a psychiatry professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, said it was “flatly ridiculous” for the APA to contend there is not enough information available to warrant including parental alienation in the DSM. He cited legal developments and new research in numerous foreign countries. His proposal defines parental alienation disorder as “a mental condition in which a child, usually one whose parents are engaged in a high conflict divorce, allies himself or herself strongly with one parent, and rejects a relationship with the other parent, without legitimate justification.”

Andrew G. Storie is a family law and divorce attorney who serves Orlando and all of Central Florida. For more information please visit

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