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Canberra psychologist disciplined after labelling children with unrecognised condition

A Canberra psychologist has been disciplined for claiming in a report that his client's children suffered from "parental alienation syndrome", a condition not formally recognised by psychology bodies.

A tribunal was also critical in its assessment of the psychologist's report, saying that it went beyond opinion or reasonable inference and "attributes fault and deliberately dishonourable behaviour factually to the [ex-wife]".

"It uses emotive, extreme and exaggerated language. It does not purport to give an objective assessment or opinion of the situation."

The psychologist wrote the medical report for his client, who needed it to complete a Centrelink form relating to an application for his disability support.

"In 2009 (the client's) wife destroyed him and took everything he had including turning his children against him – this is the worst nasty divorce I have encountered – he is shattered by it," the psychologist's report read.

"(The client) loves his children, they have been turned against him methodically (aka Parental Alienation Synd) he now is only seeing one child the others only occasionally will talk to him – this affects him on a regular + fluctuating basis."

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But when his ex-partner and mother of his four children received the report - through government processes relating to the children - and read claims it made about her, she complained to the psychology board.

The board put conditions on the psychologist's practice, but he appealed those conditions in the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

But, in evidence given by an expert witness and psychologist, the tribunal heard the syndrome was not a recognised disorder in the DSM-V.

"[The expert] said that 'a psychologist's report will have some opinion and interpretation as part of the report, however this must be clearly based on evidence.'"

The term "parental alienation syndrome" is sometimes brought up in family law cases, where it is said to explain false allegations - often in regard to child sexual abuse - made by one parent against another.

The tribunal accepted the expert's assessment in regard to the syndrome.

"It has no accepted validity or common usage in psychiatric terminology and is not a term that a trained psychiatrist or psychologist would be likely to use."

The tribunal also criticised the unprofessional nature of the report itself.

"[The report] ignores the intervention of the Family Court into the marital affairs of the parties. It does not distinguish between fact, hearsay, inference or opinion," the tribunal said.

"It uses a form of terminology (Parental Alienation Syndrome) as though it were a recognised and commonly used psychiatric classification."

The disciplined psychologist will have to organise, at his own expense, monthly supervision of his practice for six months.