Richard A. Gardner

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Richard Alan Gardner
Born (1931-04-28)April 28, 1931
The Bronx, New York City
Died May 25, 2003(2003-05-25) (aged 72)
Tenafly, New Jersey[1]
Fields Child psychiatry
Institutions Columbia University
Known for Parental alienation syndrome
Website at the Wayback Machine (archived April 29, 2007)

Richard Alan Gardner (April 28, 1931 – May 25, 2003) was an American psychiatrist known for researching parental alienation syndrome (PAS), widely understood to describe when parents with children divorce, one parent (usually the custodial parent) purposely alienates the child or children from the non-custodial parent. According to Gardner's early research, and later corroborated by others, the alienating parent attempts to damage or sever the child's relationship with the non-custodial parent. Gardner researched the PAS phenomenon through personal observation in his private practice to explain what he considered to be an epidemic of false accusations of child sexual abuse. In addition to his practice, Gardner held a fully credentialed position as a clinical professor of psychiatry in Columbia University's division of child and adolescent psychiatry. Over the course of his career he published more than 40 books and 250 articles in a variety of areas of child psychiatry and operated a company, Creative Therapeutics, Inc., that marketed materials based on his theories. Gardner testified as an expert witness in many of custody cases in the USA.[2] Gardner died by suicide in 2003.

Early life and career[edit]

Gardner was born in The Bronx on April 28, 1931 and graduated from Columbia College, Columbia University and the SUNY Downstate Medical Center, also serving as the director of child psychiatry in the United States Army medical corps while in Germany. Gardner was married to, then subsequently divorced Lee Gardner, with whom he had three children (Andrew, Nancy and Julie). Later he was a partner of Natalie Weiss.[1]

Gardner had a private practice and held an unpaid position as Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University.[1] Gardner claimed to have authored 85 articles in peer review journals, numerous books[3] and testified in more than 400 child custody cases (one of which was the Wee Care Nursery School ritual abuse case). In 1970 when divorce was becoming more common in the United States, Gardner wrote Boys and Girls Book About Divorce to provide children with suggestions on how to cope with the situation, and in 1973 he created one of the first board games for use in child psychotherapy.[1]


Gardner's observation of a "parental alienation syndrome" focused on how one parent may misuse the powers of socialization to turn a child against a once loved parent. Gardner's labeling of alienation processes as a "syndrome" remains controversial among psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists.[4] PAS has not been recognized by the American Psychiatric Association or any other medical or professional association. It has been extensively criticized by scientists and jurists, who describe it as inadmissible in child custody hearings based on both science and law.[5] Gardner's claims that PAS is scientifically valid and legally admissible are not widely supported and PAS is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. DSM-5 Task Force Chair David Kupfer and DSM-5 Task Force Public Representative James McNulty have written letters to concerned professionals that PAS will not be included in DSM-5.[6]

His views stirred considerable controversy and he published a rebuttal of his critics' arguments before he died by suicide.[7]

One common criticism of the PAS diagnosis is that it is not included in the DSM-5, which is true, although it typically takes many years to include or remove any DSM diagnosis. For example, homosexuality was included as a "sociopathic personality disturbance" in the DMS 1952-1973 and DSM inclusion or exclusion is influenced by "value judgement" over "factual dispute"[8] Further Gardner himself stated more research would be required over several years to provide enough evidence for inclusion in DSM-5. It has also been stated that promoting his observations runs contrary to protecting children who have witnessed domestic violence, whose behavior is entirely consistent with children who have witnessed domestic abuse or have been abused. Gardner also published several books and articles on how to tell the difference between a child suffering from witnessing abuse or having been sexually abused from one suffering from PAS. Carol S. Bruch, Research Professor of Law at the University of California, Davis, implied that Dr. Gardner's description of PAS could inflict emotions on his audience. She found lack of careful analysis and rigor among the adopters of Dr. Gardner's observations.[9]

In a 2002 article in the American Journal of Family Therapy, Gardner dismissed most of his critics as either biased or misinformed. "Attorneys frequently select out-of-context material in order to enhance their positions in courts of law... some of these misperceptions and misrepresentations have become so widespread that I considered it judicious to formulate this statement," he wrote.[10][3]

In the same article, Gardner denied that he condoned pedophilia. "I believe that pedophilia is a bad thing for society," he wrote. "I do believe, however, that pedophilia, like all other forms of atypical sexuality is part of the human repertoire and that all humans are born with the potential to develop any of the forms of atypical sexuality (which are referred to as paraphilias by DSM-IV). My acknowledgment that a form of behavior is part of the human potential is not an endorsement of that behavior. Rape, murder, sexual sadism, and sexual harassment are all part of the human potential. This does not mean I sanction these abominations."

Gardner also advocated against mandatory reporting laws for child abuse, against immunity from prosecution of individuals reporting child abuse and for the creation of programs with federal funding designed to assist individuals claimed to be falsely accused of child abuse.[2]


Gardner died by suicide on May 25, 2003. Shortly after his death, his son, Andrew, said that Gardner was suffering from type I complex regional pain syndrome, a neurological syndrome formerly known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy.[1]



  1. ^ a b c d e Lavietes, S (2009-06-09). "Richard Gardner, 72, Dies; Cast Doubt on Abuse Claims.". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-11-27. 
  2. ^ a b Hoult, JA (2006). "The Evidentiary Admissibility of Parental Alienation Syndrome: Science, Law, and Policy". Children's Legal Rights Journal. 26 (1). 
  3. ^ a b Gardner, Richard (1999-06-09). "Misperceptions versus facts about Richard A. Gardner, M.D.". Cresskill, New Jersey. 
  4. ^ Waldron, KH; Joanis DE (1996). "Understanding and Collaboratively Treating Parental Alienation Syndrome". American Journal of Family Law. 10: 121–133. 
  5. ^ Wood, CL (1994). "The parental alienation syndrome: a dangerous aura of reliability". Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review. 29: 1367–1415. 
  6. ^ Jamison, Peter (June 10, 2011). "'Parental Alienation Syndrome' Unlikely to Be Included in DSM-5". SF Weekly. Retrieved July 30, 2012. 
  7. ^ Gardner, Richard (2004). "Commentary on Kelly and Johnston's The Alienated Child: A Reformulation of Parental Alienation Syndrome" (pdf). Family Court Review. 42 (4): 611–21. doi:10.1177/1531244504268711. 
  8. ^ "The diagnostic status of homosexuality in DSM-III: a reformulation of the issues" (pdf). Family Court Review. 138: 210–215. 1981. 
  9. ^ Bruch, Carol (Fall 2001). "Parental Alienation Syndrome and Parental Alienation: Getting It Wrong in Child Custody Cases" (PDF). Family Law Quarterly. 35 (3). Archived from the original on 2001-12-28. 
  10. ^ Gardner, Richard (2002). "Misinformation Versus Facts About the Contributions of Richard A. Gardner, M.D.". American Journal of Family Therapy. 30 (5): 395–416. doi:10.1080/01926180260296305.