Diseases What is SAP and why is it a controversial...

What is SAP and why is it a controversial concept


Parental Alienation Syndrome is not accepted by the WHO as a mental disorder. It is just a legal strategy in custody cases that has dire consequences for children.

In recent times the term SAP has become popular, which is the abbreviation of what some people have called Parental Alienation Syndrome. They summarize it as manipulation by a parent, a role that is usually assigned to the mother of the sons and daughters, to incite and confront them against the other parent, generally the father. However, it is a concept that is not without controversy. Parental Alienation Syndrome is not accepted by the WHO as a mental disorder. This disorder is not included in the international manuals for the classification of diseases, European and American, the ICD and the DSM, nor that of the APA, nor is it recognized by the Spanish Association of Neuropsychiatry and the Observatory of Gender Violence. Why?

Actually, the SAP is a trap because by using that label, what is done is to avoid investigating the true reasons for the sons and daughters to show that rejection to the father or mother.

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The same people who defend the validity of the SAP are usually the ones who question the Comprehensive Law against Gender Violence, speak of discrimination against men, minimize cases of sexist violence, argue that many complaints are false, defend shared custody imposed.


Consider a 9-year-old girl who has been sexually abused by her father for two years. No one believes her except her mother, but since they are separated, there is no way to prove their existence. The girl protests every time she goes with her father, the mother tries to prevent it at all costs. There comes a point where the police have to intervene to take her to her father.

As there is no evidence, the mother is accused of hurting the father, of manipulating against him, of behaving with a spiteful attitude. The girl, desperate, one day, in a display of cold blood, records a conversation with her cell phone in which the father confesses the abuse, and finally, can end her ordeal.

This story is real, it is the story of a girl, let’s say María, who came to light in July of last year in Madrid. Her accusations were not taken into account at the time because the expert who examined María did not believe her statements.


Because it is sometimes used in cases where there are accusations of abuse and / or mistreatment towards one of the parents and, instead of investigating that accusation, it is alleged that the other party is the one who mistreats the children.

Despite the fact that, today, there are instruments for evaluating the veracity of a minor’s testimony. For example, if he alleges that he is a victim of bullying, a robbery, or has witnessed a crime.

Despite the fact that there is scientific consensus about the veracity of most testimonies about sexual abuse.

Despite the fact that, according to studies, most of the sexual abuse of minors occurs in the family environment.

If the crime of which a minor claim to be a victim is sexual abuse or mistreatment by his father, not only do they not believe him and those techniques seem to no longer exist, but he is labeled as having a non-existent syndrome and is rejected its version per system.

And as a treatment it is proposed to go to the abuser or abuser. Which is what was done in Maria’s case.


Imagine a minor who suffers bullying or harassment at school, who denounces it and is not believed.

I propose an exercise of imagination to see succinctly the dynamics that underlie SAP. As a treatment, he is forced to spend every afternoon with his bullies-bullies without anyone’s supervision. Imagine that there are people who believe the minor and that when trying to defend him they are accused of manipulating, of being resentful that they do not allow him to relate normally with those friends who just want to be his friends.

What is totally absurd? Well, that is what the SAP theory proposes. Now let’s change a child who is bullied for a child who claims to be abused by his or her father or mother.


It was created by Richard Alan Gardner, an American physician who volunteered in the child psychiatric division of Columbia College at Columbia University from 1963 until his suicide in 2003, involved in controversial accusations of pedophilia and pedophilia.

He became interested in the prosecutions of what he called false accusations of child sexual abuse. Later, he began to outline and publicize his theory and specialized as an expert testifying in child custody cases in conflictive divorces, where a parent, especially the father, was accused of sexual abuse.

The SAP was constructed by means of fallacies: circular argument, appeal to authority (Gardner himself), and false analogies with various medical disorders. This man was creating and shaping his theory answering his criticisms with a posteriori argument. That is, it was argued on the fly, as they were criticizing it.

Interestingly, it has never been diagnosed by experts outside of a custody litigation, resulting more of a legal problem than a psychological one, where many lawyers have been shielding themselves from lawsuits.


Because it is not a medical or clinical entity. What does this mean? There is no consistency of symptoms that gives rise to its own measurable and measurable clinical form.

In some cases, it looks more like a PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), in other cases it looks like a false ideation, in others depression; but this doesn’t seem to matter. If I’m interested, I call all SAP and turn it into a mixed bag that I use as I please.

Neither the World Health Organization nor the American Psychological Association, the two most important institutions in the world, recognize its existence in terms of health and mental disorders.

The Spanish Association of Neuropsychiatry (AEN) rejects the use of SAP, defines it as “Gardner’s castle in the air”, which never proved his theory and was only based on his personal opinions. The AEN has prepared a report where it carries out a detailed analysis on the supposed scientific bases of the SAP and the risks of its application as a medical and psychiatric disorder in the courts of Spain.

The General Council of the Judiciary, through the Group of Experts on Domestic and Gender Violence, denies in its Guide to criteria for judicial action against gender violence (2016) that the SAP is a clinical category and speaks of pseudoscientific theory. The NGO Save the Children, in its report The Spanish Justice on Child Sexual Abuse, sees it as very
worrying that the courts give credit to the SAP without conducting an
exhaustive investigation, which could lead to the lack of protection of minors.


The therapeutic intervention recommended by RA Gardner involves more legal constraint than medical treatment. It even indicates as essential for its diagnosis, that there is a judicial process on the custody of minors or a complaint for sexual abuse, so surprisingly there is no diagnosis of PAS without having a judicial litigation.

The pragmatic objective is twofold: to achieve the change of custody and to modify through Threat Therapy, which, as its name indicates without shame, consists of threatening a change of custody, plus the cancellation of visits and communication by the judge if the accused parent is not seen.

The treatment he proposes violates professional ethics by not guaranteeing professional secrecy, and is based on continuous threats and coercion, even of minors. Any other known therapy relies on patient-therapist collaboration. What is proposed with the SAP does not occur in any type of disorder. In my opinion, it is aberrant and goes against any manual of child and adolescent psychotherapy.

It leaves minors who denounce abuse defenseless, end up “diagnosed” or rather mislabeled as SAP and the facts they claim are not investigated. Using any reaction like SAP is a circular argument, a strategy that allows the accused of abuse to become the victim, and the minors and the other parent to become guilty.


I want to think that it is because ignorance is daring. It thrives in the same way that a paradigm is created. Praising the ideologue of the day, who ends up being clothed in scientism thanks to the support of related groups that support these concepts for various interests (economic, ideological, scientific). Making a snowball, which in the end is uncritically socially integrated.


Do not use the SAP shortcut to obstruct the investigation of alleged sexual abuse or reports of abuse or gross negligence. In accusations as serious as abuse or mistreatment, find out before making a decision.

Elucidating the reasons why a minor does not want to see the non-custodial parent without resorting to the PAS is a greater guarantee of protection for that minor.

So, for Maria and for so many truncated lives, stop using SAP as an argument.

MindFixes Staffhttp://mindfixes.com
MindFixes is dedicated to promoting mental health, preventing mental disorders and advocating, educating, and serving all people with mental and substance use conditions. MindFixes is determined to persevere, learn, grow, love and laugh through our wellness journey and we invite all to join.


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