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Richard Alan Gardner (April 28, 1931 – May 25, 2003) was a clinical professor of psychiatry in the Division of Child Psychiatry at Columbia University from 1963 until his death in 2003. He was known for coining the term parental alienation syndrome (PAS) in 1985. He published more than 40 books and more than 250 articles in a variety of areas of child psychiatry. He also 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.[1]

Gardner was a consistent advocate for fathers in custody battles, particularly fathers accused of child abuse. His most recent book, The Parental Alienation Syndrome, describes in detail the stages (i.e., mild, moderate, severe) of destructive impact on a child of one parent's alienation of another parent, and fully describes the three types of alienator parent (i.e., naive, active, obsessed).


Gardner wrote the first self-help book for children of divorce it is currently in its 28th printing. He devised a therapeutic technique, Mutual Story-Telling, that is included in child psychiatry curricula and listed as one of 35 significant events in the history of play therapy.[citation needed] In addition, he originated a new therapeutic modality with his introduction of the first therapeutic board game for use in psychotherapy with children. The use of such games has since become standard in child psychotherapy with many games following Gardner’s lead. Gardner’s books and therapeutic games have been translated into nine languages.


Main article: Parental alienation syndrome

Gardner's main contribution was to draw attention to parental alienation processes, that is, 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.[2] Parental alienation syndrome has been extensively criticized by some scientists and jurists, who describe it as inadmissible in child custody hearings based on both science and law.[3] Gardner's claims that PAS is scientifically valid and legally admissible are not supported and is neither listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, nor recognized as a medical syndrome.[1]

The issues he raised, by their nature, stirred considerable controversy. Because of this, he felt compelled to publish a rebuttal before he died.[4]

There is considerable criticism of Gardner by feminist critics.[citation needed]

Later in his life, in 1999, Gardner responded to his many criticisms in the American Journal of Family Therapy, summarizing in the abstract what he believed was the root of the many criticisms:

Some of these originated from conflicts in the legal arena, where attorneys frequently select out-of-context material in order to enhance their positions in courts of law. This is the nature of the adversary system, and it is one of the causes of the controversy that sometimes surround my contributions. Some of these misperceptions and misrepresentations have become so widespread that I considered it judicious to formulate this statement.[5]

Gardner also denied that he in any way condoned pedophilia:

I believe that pedophilia is a bad thing for society. 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."[6]

Gardner also advocated against mandatory reporting laws for child abuse and immunity from prosecution of individuals reporting child abuse and advocated for the creation of programs with federal funding designed to assist individuals claimed to be falsely accused of child abuse.[1]


Gardner took his own life on May 25, 2003, using a kitchen knife to stab himself multiple times in the chest and neck.[7] His son Andrew said shortly after his father's death that Gardner was "distraught" over the advancing symptoms of reflex sympathetic dystrophy, a painful neurological syndrome, at the time he took his life.[8]


  • The boys and girls book about divorce, with an introduction for parents, by Richard A. Gardner. Foreword by Louise Bates Ames. Illustrated by Alfred Lowenheim (1970), Science House, ISBN 0-553-27619-0
  • Doctor Gardner's Modern Fairy Tales (1977) ISBN 0-933812-09-4
  • The Parental Alienation Syndrome (1992) ISBN 0-933812-42-6
  • Protocols for the Sex-Abuse Evaluation (1995) ISBN 0-933812-38-8
  • Psychotherapy With Sex-Abuse Victims: True, False, and Hysterical (1996) ISBN 0-933812-41-8
  • Sex-Abuse Trauma?: Or Trauma from Other Sources? (2001) ISBN 0-933812-47-7


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