In this series of posts, I review the work of scientists Libow & Schreier, who wrote extensively in the scientific literature about Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSbP). They literally wrote the book on it in 1993 and called it “Hurting for Love”.
In my last post, I describe my discomfort with the name of the book, and in this post, I talk about my discomfort with the rest of it.
Is the Book Any Good?
I didn’t buy it. But I see it on Google Books, and I thought I’d look at a preview. I was intrigued by a chapter titled, “The difficulty when the abuse is psychological,” so I took a look at it. The reason it piqued my interest is that all MSbP perpetrators use psychological abuse, so I was wondering what they were talking about.
On page 49, the beginning of that chapter, they start with this sentence:
“Not all cases involve serious harm to a child or sophisticated deception on the part of the parent.”
I’m like – WTF? Of course, all cases of MSbP involve serious harm to the child, and all cases involve sophisticated deception on the part of the perpetrator. How could they make such an unsubstantiated claim?
But then I read their little case study on “Maureen” – the perpetrator. They did not do the case study on the kids, including “Kevin,” the focus of the particular case study. They focus on the perpetrator, of course.
So what happens to Kevin? He is poisoned with anticonvulsants by Maureen. Maureen tried to fake him vomiting by pouring soda pop on the floor which was still bubbling when she brought the resident in to look at it. The resident said:
“I was very upset when I found out later the boy went back to his mother.”
Then, they say,
“Kevin was lost to follow-up, so we know nothing about his ultimate fate.”
Did they have to use the term “ultimate fate”? Then they say,
“Other examples [include] “milder cases” that caused psychological damage to children, yet could not be managed easily by our protective systems.”
Two Take-home Messages from the Epidemiologist
- Kevin probably died, so this wasn’t “mild”.
- It wasn’t just psychological abuse if Maureen was overdosing him with anticonvulsants.
Is the Book Good for Anything, Then?
Obviously, I am more than underwhelmed by it. But before you make a personal decision about it, read my next post, where I cover a different researcher’s point-of-view about the book.
What is the prevalence of MSbP anyway?
Check out this study 2001 study from New Zealand.