Battling for Total Reform

Parental Alienation, the ICD and the DSM

Parental alienation is a set of abusive behaviours whereby one parent (in most cases the resident parent) damages, and in some cases destroys the previously healthy loving relationship between the child and the child’s other parent (the non-resident parent).

These set of abusive behaviours can be mild to moderate; the alienating parent may not be aware they are doing any damage to the relationship between their child(ren) and the targeted parent. In mild cases, such alienating parents would require support from an appropriately trained professional to help them gain insight and attempt to modify their behaviours in the best interests of the children.

Severe cases of parental alienation are the most damaging. In severe cases the alienating parent deliberately damages, and in some cases destroys the previously healthy loving relationship between the child and the child’s other parent (the non-resident parent).

In terms of recognition in the UK, the government at present does not officially recognise parental alienation as a form of abuse. However Anthony Douglas, CEO of The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) publicly states that parental alienation is emotional abuse. He also publicly states that the above abuse should be treated with the same severity as any other form of abuse. However the front-line staff of Cafcass still do not adhere to the public statements of their very own CEO.

The UK’s leading charity in campaigning and working in child protection The National Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) define emotional abuse as the ongoing emotional maltreatment of a child. It’s sometimes called psychological abuse and can seriously damage a child’s emotional health and development.

A child’s human right to a relationship with both parents is recognised by the The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Article 9 from the above document (Separation From Parents) states that:

  • Children must not be separated from their parents against their will unless it is in their best interests (for example, if a parent is hurting or neglecting a child).
  • Children whose parents have separated have the right to stay in contact with both parents, unless this could cause them harm

In terms of official recognition within psychiatry parental alienation is now included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental DisordersFifth 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.

With regards to recognition from the wider medical arena, on 18th June this year, the World Health Organisation included parental alienation in its new International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11)The International Classification of Diseases (ICD) is seen as the the international “standard diagnostic tool for epidemiology, health management and clinical purposes.”

The ICD includes those same conditions covered by the DSM, however it also includes conditions and diseases related to all other body systems.

In the ICD-11 parental alienation is characterised as occurring “when a child/ren allies himself or herself strongly with the care giver (the alienating or aligned party) and rejects the relationship with the other parent or parents (the targeted or alienated parent or parents) without legitimate justification despite a previous warm and loving relationship. The primary behavioural symptom is the child’s refusal to have contact with the targeted parent or parents” 

Regarding the long term implications on the mental health of all those affected by parental alienation, there is a plethora of evidence out there. Our Research Articles Page is just a sample of the available evidence.

So in summarising the above paragraphs we have the following recognition of parental alienation:

  • Cafcass recognise parental alienation as a form of abuse.
  • The human right of a child to have a relationship with both parents is enshrined in The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. 
  • Parental alienation is referred to as a mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental DisordersFifth Edition(DSM-5)
  • The World Health Organisation has now included parental alienation in its new International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11).
  • There is a wealth of evidence out there that not only recognises parental alienation as a set of abusive behaviours, but also highlights the long term mental health implications of all those that are negatively affected by parental, particularly children.

So despite the above recognition of parental alienation why does it continue to not be officially recognised by numerous governments? Is it that not enough people care? Is it that there is too much money to be made by the current, unchallenged adversarial approach to so-called high-conflict divorces? Is it due to a complete lack of professional curiosity? Is it due to professionals not wanting to be accountable for the damage parental alienation inflicts on both children and the targeted parent and their extended family? Or is it all of the above?

Please share this article far and wide with the aim of informing the incalculable number of people out there that are not aware of parental alienation.

These are our children that continue to be abused by parental alienation. The lack of action by governments, the judicial system and the associated services is completely unacceptable.

Margaret Mead, the American cultural anthropologist once said “children must be taught how to think, not what to think.”

btg dad


Please Note: If you are affected by any of the above issues and are in need of support regarding your well-being, mental health and/or seeking legal advice please do contact us.

We pledge to never make a profit or any other form of financial gain from any individuals affected by any of the above issues.

Should you be in need of more specialist professional advice we will gladly signpost you to such professionals that operate in line with our core principles.

We pledge to never request payment from such individuals, nor request a finder’s fee from these professionals for any referrals made.

The CCA Support Team

3 replies »

  1. Thank you for this very good overview, it is excellent. With all due respect I would suggest the following amendments.

    “Severe cases of parental alienation are the most damaging. In severe cases the alienating parent deliberately damages, and in some cases destroys the previously healthy loving relationship between the child and the child’s other parent (the non-resident parent).”
    …and in so doing massively interfere with and distort the normal healthy emotional development of the child/ren.

    “The National Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC)”
    This may be “Protection from” or more likely “Prevention of” but I am pretty sure it is not “Protection of Cruelty”….though in our position it might as well be, so may be it is what you intended, and not a faux pas but mots juste!
    Anyway, this is a great article and has provoked me to attempt to answer that all important Why? question.