Gardner was born in The Bronx on April 28, 1931 and graduated from Columbia College, Columbia University and the SUNY Downstate Medical Center, also serving as the director of child psychiatry in the United States Army medical corps while in Germany. Gardner was married to, then subsequently divorced Lee Gardner, with whom he had three children (Andrew, Nancy and Julie). Later he was a partner of Natalie Weiss.
Gardner had a private practice and held an unpaid position as Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University. Gardner claimed to have authored 85 articles in peer review journals, numerous books and testified in more than 400 child custody cases (one of which was the Wee Care Nursery School ritual abuse case). In 1970 when divorce was becoming more common in the United States, Gardner wrote Boys and Girls Book About Divorce to provide children with suggestions on how to cope with the situation, and in 1973 he created one of the first board games for use in child psychotherapy.
Gardner's observation of a "parental alienation syndrome" focused on 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. PAS has not been recognized by the American Psychiatric Association or any other medical or professional association. It has been extensively criticized by scientists and jurists, who describe it as inadmissible in child custody hearings based on both science and law. Gardner's claims that PAS is scientifically valid and legally admissible are not widely supported and PAS is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. DSM-5 Task Force Chair David Kupfer and DSM-5 Task Force Public Representative James McNulty have written letters to concerned professionals that PAS will not be included in DSM-5.
His views stirred considerable controversy and he published a rebuttal of his critics' arguments before he died by suicide.
One common criticism of the PAS diagnosis is that it is not included in the DSM-5, which is true, although it typically takes many years to include or remove any DSM diagnosis. For example, homosexuality was included as a "sociopathic personality disturbance" in the DMS 1952-1973 and DSM inclusion or exclusion is influenced by "value judgement" over "factual dispute" Further Gardner himself stated more research would be required over several years to provide enough evidence for inclusion in DSM-5. It has also been stated that promoting his observations runs contrary to protecting children who have witnessed domestic violence, whose behavior is entirely consistent with children who have witnessed domestic abuse or have been abused. Gardner also published several books and articles on how to tell the difference between a child suffering from witnessing abuse or having been sexually abused from one suffering from PAS. Carol S. Bruch, Research Professor of Law at the University of California, Davis, implied that Dr. Gardner's description of PAS could inflict emotions on his audience. She found lack of careful analysis and rigor among the adopters of Dr. Gardner's observations.
In a 2002 article in the American Journal of Family Therapy, Gardner dismissed most of his critics as either biased or misinformed. "Attorneys frequently select out-of-context material in order to enhance their positions in courts of law... some of these misperceptions and misrepresentations have become so widespread that I considered it judicious to formulate this statement," he wrote.
In the same article, Gardner denied that he condoned pedophilia. "I believe that pedophilia is a bad thing for society," he wrote. "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."
Gardner also advocated against mandatory reporting laws for child abuse, against immunity from prosecution of individuals reporting child abuse and for the creation of programs with federal funding designed to assist individuals claimed to be falsely accused of child abuse.
Gardner died by suicide on May 25, 2003. Shortly after his death, his son, Andrew, said that Gardner was suffering from type I complex regional pain syndrome, a neurological syndrome formerly known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy.Richard A. Gardner (1 April 1985). The Boys and Girls Book About Divorce. Bantam. ISBN 978-0-553-27619-0. Retrieved 27 November 2011.
Richard A. Gardner (1983). Dr. Gardner's Modern fairy tales. Creative Therapeutics. ISBN 978-0-933812-09-3. Retrieved 27 November 2011.
Richard A. Gardner (March 1998). The parental alienation syndrome: a guide for mental health and legal professionals. Creative Therapeutics. ISBN 978-0-933812-42-0. Retrieved 27 November 2011.
Richard A. Gardner (May 1995). Protocols for the sex-abuse evaluation. Creative Therapeutics. ISBN 978-0-933812-38-3. Retrieved 27 November 2011.
Richard A. Gardner (1 March 1996). Psychotherapy with sex-abuse victims: true, false, and hysterical. Creative Therapeutics. ISBN 978-0-933812-41-3. Retrieved 27 November 2011.
Richard A. Gardner (December 2001). Sex-Abuse Trauma?: Or Trauma from Other Sources?. Creative Therapeutics. ISBN 978-0-933812-47-5. Retrieved 27 November 2011.
Richard A. Gardner. The parental alienation syndrome and the differentiation between fabricated and genuine child sex abuse.
Richard A. Gardner. Psychotherapy With Sex-Abuse Victims: True, False, and Hysterical.
Richard A. Gardner. True and False Accusations of Child Sex Abuse.
Richard A. Gardner. Sex Abuse Legitimacy Scale (Sal Scale).