The “Equation” of Parental Alienation

I’m going to expand on something Klara Gabanowicz wrote in a Comment to one of my blogs in which she proposed an analogy to math equations to explain the difference between Gardner’s model of “parental alienation” and Childress’ model of AB-PA.  Klara’s basic insight and her analogy to a math equation helps illuminate a basic feature of the difference between Gardner’s PAS model and AB-PA.

Klara indicated that she was so captivated by the analogy to a mathematical equation in comparing Gardner’s approach and my approach to defining the pathology that she was “walking in circles in my kitchen talking to myself.”  Don’t worry Klara, I know just how it gets when an idea captivates.

I initially began my response to Klara as a Reply to her Comment, but then I thought that both her analogy to a math equation and my response might be of broader general interest, so I’m turning it into a full blog post.

Kara’s basic analogy is that diagnosis is like a math equation – a “psychological equation,” if you will – with the individual “mathematical terms” of the equation being the symptom features and the psychological constructs of professional psychology.  I think that’s a pretty accurate analogy.

Gardner correctly recognized the existence of a pathology – a pattern of symptoms involving a child’s rejection of a normal-range parent following divorce.  The problem is that Gardner skipped the step of professional diagnosis.  The “psychological equation” he formed to define the pathology – the “Gardnerian Equation” – was too simplistic and fragile to be able to solve the pathology.

Diagnosis is the application of the standard and established constructs and principles of professional psychology to a set of symptoms – diagnosis is working out the “psychological equation” that defines the pathology.

Gardner skipped the step of diagnosis.  Instead, he proposed an entirely “new form of pathology” that he asserted was unique in all of mental health – the “Gardnerian Equation” for the pathology – that relied exclusively on entirely new and unique “mathematical terms” that were unlike any other pathology in all of mental health.

His 8 symptom identifiers were made up entirely by him and they were all unique symptoms in all of mental health, and his “psychological equation” relied almost exclusively on these symptoms.  He did not use any “mathematical terms” in his “psychological equation” (any constructs and principles) from any other form of established pathology.

As a result, the Gardnernian Equation for the pathology is extremely fragile and unstable, because it relies almost exclusively on symptom features and these symptom features are unique to the pathology – having no connection to any other pathology in all of mental health.  His “psychological equation” is over-reliant on a set of new and unique symptoms that Gardner simply made up to be specific to this form of pathology, without sufficient supporting constructs from professional psychology.

By over-relying on symptom features and not incorporating more substantial “mathematical terms” from standard and established psychological constructs and principles of professional psychology into his “psychological equation,” the “Gardnerian Equation” that he created to define the pathology is simply too weak and ill-formed to be able to solve the pathology.  When we try to use the Gardnerian “psychological equation” to solve the pathology, it breaks and fractures, and it is unable to solve the pathology.

Diagnosis involves the application of standard and established constructs and principles from professional psychology to a set of symptoms.  We just don’t go around making up “new forms of pathology” and calling that diagnosis.

Psychologist: “Your child has I Don’t Want to Eat Carrots Syndrome.  We can identify this pathology by a child’s rejection of carrots for weak and frivolous reasons.  A lack of ambivalence toward carrots.  The child uses borrowed reasons from other children for rejecting carrots (such as they taste bad).  The Independent Rejecter Phenomenon, which is when the child asserts it’s the child’s own independent beliefs that the child doesn’t like carrots.  The child also rejects other food on his or her plate that touches the carrots.

Psychologist: “You and your wife have Tuesday Evening Argument Syndrome.  We can identify this pathology by an argument between the two of you on Tuesday evenings for weak and frivolous reasons.  A lack of ambivalence in blaming each other for the argument.  The reasons for the argument are borrowed from past arguments.  The Independent Arguer Phenomenon in which you each assert that you actually independently believe your side of the argument is correct.  You argue with other people who take the same position as your spouse.

Coming up with unique new syndromes for each separate aspect of life is NOT diagnosis.  Diagnosis is the application of standard and established psychological principles and constructs to a set of symptoms.  Diagnosis using standard and established constructs and principles leads to a deeper understanding for the organizing core beneath the superficial features of symptom presentation.

Diagnosis is developing a “psychological equation” that defines the pathology within the organizing context of the established constructs and principles of professional psychology.

Was Gardner correct in identifying a pathology involving a child’s rejection of a normal-range parent surrounding divorce?  Yes.

He simply was a poor diagnostician.  He didn’t work out the “psychological equation” that defines the pathology.  Instead he proposed an entirely new form of pathology, an I Don’t Want to Eat Carrots Syndrome.

What I do in Foundations is diagnosis.  Foundations is a diagnostic workup of the pathology.

Foundations represents the “psychological equation” – all the psychological terms and constructs – that define the pathology.

The pathology called “parental alienation” represents a complex “psychological equation” of attachment-related constructs (pathological mourning and the trans-generational transmission of attachment trauma), family systems constructs (cross-generational coalition and an emotional cutoff), and personality disorder pathology (narcissistic/borderline personality traits and splitting).

The various structural diagrams I’ve produced to visually represent the pathology are essentially the “psychological equations” for the pathology.

Diagram of AB-PA Pathology

Schematic Diagram of  the Pathology

In proposing a “new form of pathology” – a “new syndrome” unique in all of mental health – Gardner essentially proposed a diagnosis of I Don’t Want to Eat Carrots Syndrome.

As a clinical psychologist, my analysis of Gardner’s “psychological equation” (the I Don’t Want to Eat Carrots Syndrome) is that it is incredibly simplistic and entirely inadequate to solve the complex attachment-related family pathology of “parental alienation.”  The “Gardnerian Equation” for the pathology is a really-really poor model for a pathology, and it is an extremely problematic “psychological equation” to define the pathology.

That’s why the “Gardnerian Equation” hasn’t been able to solve the pathology in 30 years, and – truth be told – the Gardnerian PAS “psychological equation” for defining the pathology is so poor it will NEVER be able to solve the pathology.

Solving the pathology requires a more conceptually anchored (rather than symptom anchored) “psychological equation” for defining the pathology.  That’s what I set about to do with an attachment-based model of “parental alienation” – AB-PA.

AB-PA is a “psychological equation” – a formal and complete diagnostic workup of the pathology – that provides the solid conceptual Foundations on which we can stand to solve the pathology.

When the three child symptoms of AB-PA (the Diagnostic Checklist for Pathogenic Parenting) are entered into the AB-PA “equation” for defining the pathology (Foundations),  the “psychological equation” of AB-PA produces the solution – a DSM-5 diagnosis of V995.51 Child Psychological Abuse that then provides the professional rationale for the protective separation of the child from the abusive parent.

Gardner’s “psychological equation” to define the pathology is too simplistic and ill-formed to be able to solve the pathology.

The “psychological equation” of AB-PA is strong enough and robust enough to solve the pathology.

What we now need to do is educate professional mental health that the AB-PA “psychological equation” for defining the pathology exists, and we must get professional psychology to begin using the AB-PA “psychological equation” for defining the pathology (the three diagnostic indicators of AB-PA; the Diagnostic Checklist for Pathogenic Parenting) in all cases of attachment-related pathology surrounding divorce.

Attachment-related pathology surrounding divorce – notice I did not use the term “parental alienation.

Analogy Explanation:  The reason I’m switching the language to attachment-related pathology, pathogenic parenting, and cross-generational coalition, is because these are the “mathematical terms” used in the “psychological equation” of AB-PA to define “parental alienation.”

In the “psychological equation” of AB-PA there is no “mathematical term” for “parental alienation” as a construct.  If you try to input the term “parental alienation” into AB-PA, the term just falls on the floor and lays there.  In the “psychological equation” of AB-PA the “mathematical terms” are attachment-related pathology, pathogenic parenting, and cross-generational coalition.

There are also “mathematical terms” for narcissistic and borderline personality pathology, splitting, and a host of others.  But there is no “mathematical term” in the “psychological equation” itself for “parental alienation.”

So, yes Klara, your analogy is accurate – which is why it captivated you so strongly in your kitchen.  I know exactly what that feels like.

If it’s okay with you, when I talk about AB-PA using a “psychological equation” analogy I’d like to give you credit for the idea by citing this blog post as a joint authorship (Gabanowicz & Childress, 2017), because your idea is correct and I’ve expanded upon it here.  So if that works for you, you might get yourself into the professional literature on this.

Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857


Gabanowitcz, K. and Childress, C.A. (2017). The “Equation” of Parental Alienation. Retrieved from

7 thoughts on “The “Equation” of Parental Alienation”

  1. I like the mathematical approach – I read and appreciated Gardner’s work, but I have no clue how to apply it in a mathematical (functional) way.

    AB/PA I can see a simple Boolean equation that ends with an action/solution:

    1. Attachment system suppression? – True
    2. Normal range (targeted) parent? – True
    3. Pathogenic Parenting? – True
    If then – Child Psychological Abuse – True
    If then – Get the kid away from the abuser…

    This is so simple it seems it could even be incorporated into the dysfunctional court system(s)!

  2. I just pissed my pants

    But not actually

    ONLY MENTALLY, so don’t worry

    Holy shit

    Star Struck

    THANK You

    I’m exceptionally humbled and you made my day Dr. Childress!

    And it’s not the first time!
    I campaign for this model “WITH GREAT VICIOUSNESS ”


    and I’m very honored to be recognised for my analogy!
    Thank the ADD!

    This is a historical time, and I’m grateful for your passionate investment towards solving this problem, and towards giving us a voice we’re EXCITED TO USE ! like a Mike Drop in a freestyle rap batle with the pathogen !

    Your socially active and truly inspiring endeavour in solving this problem has helped me to keep tough and soldier on CONSISTENTLY!

    I feel lucky (all things considering) and proud to be a part of a campaign based on OLD and well established constructs and principles that are being taught through modern social media, and from the PARENTS up to the mental health professionals, who seemingly forgot their psychological times tables.

    The Internet and social media aspect makes it very dynamic and SO INTERESTING.

    Your approach is outstanding. Social media, YouTube, surprisingly human language and shock value has us target warriors laughing and seeking more. The first time I read,
    “Because the pathogen is stupid ad sin”,
    I spit out my food and snorted.

    You’ve got stage presence and approachability.

    NOT Common in your profession.

    That is something I find to be very rare in my experience, and we all appreciate it.

    I go to the courthouse every thursday and hand out booklets and numerous other info before i get to the law library.

    So many lawyers act like, ” I’m pragmatic… so I just give advice even when I’m Not giving advice… and they great news”

    Lawyers are strange poeple.

    They’re “taupe” and closed minded pontificators… and they cry at home I bet.

    I annoy one in particular. Lawyer but it’s kind of banter

    “Shes here all the time! Going on about some pathogen and spewing off about me being an ignorant ally

    Mr Duty Council – he runs when he sees me because I sneak the booklets into his office and I flirt when he’s mad..

    So he gets frustrated and confused and just sighs

    But he’ll remember one day! And hell think that some people are passionate for a reason

    Like Dr. CHILL -A.F- DRESS

    More personal investments to come. My case is exceptionally upside down, and I’m reaching out to “the fifth estate” he Canadian Verizon of Frontline

    Public interest is just that

    And this post here, I think it will help !



    I’m going to go tell ALL MY PSYCH FRIENDS! ALL OF THEM !! and during, i will jump, many times, like I’m 7 …I still do this at 30.

    It’s the ADD


    1. Klara Gabanowitz I would like to be your friend. Just reading your response had me pee my pants and roll on the floor laughing 😂 except not really because I’m riding in the car but I laughed out loud for sure. Continue to keep up the good fight and write you are smart and funny-Dorcy

  3. Go Klara! Go Klara! Go, Go, Go Klara! Such fun. And thank you, Dr. Childress for your continued amazing work. Professional excellence= check. Academic accuracy = check. Compassionate care for our kids= check. Human heart= check. Wise Way with Words= check. Take No BS Badass = check. Super Sophisticated Sense of Humor = check plus!

  4. Dorcy Puter wants to be my friend. ….
    Insanity. YES! DORCY! I’LL BE YOUR FRIEND! Hell, I’d be your no charge butler if you were inclined!

    Incredible how someone who is beyond murdered emotionally and psychologically can still feel joy not only because I’ve taken the advice to metabolize the trauma as suggested in Dr. Childress’ complex trauma post,
    (and feelings of mama bear indignant anger) but THEN you like my analogy do say you laughed….

    Might seem like nothing to most, but for me, as someone who feels invisible to the world, it’s everything!

    THANK you Dorcy. I’d love to be your friend.

    I’ll get started on our friendship bracelets

    I hope you like neon colors

    Hahaha kiiiiidddinggggg

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