Libow, Schreier, & Munchausen by Proxy: Part 9 – Monika’s Book Critique

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?

White crib

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.”

Soap bubble

Two Take-home Messages from the Epidemiologist

  1. Kevin probably died, so this wasn’t “mild”.
  2. 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.

Photograph of crib by Erika Wittlieb on Pixabay. Photograph of soap bubble by Platinum Portfolio on Pixabay.


One thought on “Libow, Schreier, & Munchausen by Proxy: Part 9 – Monika’s Book Critique

  1. I find it hard to put into words the effect of this sort of “research” has on me. Trained in “hard” science, I would not simply leave a test subject to wander off into the system once I’d dissected its *parent* or its *pathology*. Reliable information about effects has to include studies over time, on the object of the agency in question.
    FOr example, in MSbP, what effect does that have on the surviving child five, ten, twenty years later? How is the family dynamic still in play (or not)? What does this create in terms of tensions, alliances, and outright denial of problems? What pathologies become prevalent in male survivors versus female? How do the males express versus how females express, the impact of their
    trauma? Are there red flags that can tell us to look *back* and pinpoint a particular type of abuse? How many generations continue the specific medical-oriented abuse? What background factors enable a survivor to not be an abuser, versus a sibling who becomes one? The devil in all research lies in the details. Libow to me is… big broad strokes, no detail. From a distance, okay. Up close? I have questions about the intent of and purpose of the research as conducted and presented by Libow and crew.

    I make little sense, apologies, it’s a Saturday morning. I just feel as if Libow would have flunked out of my alma mater if her thesis was presented the way she presents her research. The obsession with the perp speaks to Libow more than to the field, I suspect.


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