Cara Tabachnick for The Washington Post writes:
These workshops have sprung up in the past decade mostly to address parental alienation, a disputed disorder coined in 1985 by psychiatrist Richard Gardner that refers to a situation where a child chooses not to have a relationship with one parent because of the influence of the other parent. Opponents charge that the reunification programs, and accusations of parental alienation itself, are shams — a way for lawyers, psychologists and social workers to profit from parents in bitter custody battles, and for the more financially secure parent to gain a custodial advantage. Proponents say that parental alienation involves truly harmful psychological behaviors that should be recognized by the therapeutic community and tort law, and that reunification programs are sometimes the only way to put families back together.
A Canadian research paper found that judges mandated family reunification programs in 27 percent of all family court cases where there was an allegation of alienation. While there is no similar research available in the United States, Ontario-based social worker Shely Polak, who spent five years researching U.S. and Canadian reunification programs for her dissertation, thinks the prevalence in the United States is significantly higher.
Just as research has not definitively proved the validity of parental alienation, it has not shown that family reunification programs work. Often the workshops are billed as educational or psycho-educational, which allows them to circumvent medical regulations and oversight (they are not covered by health insurance).