Libow, Schreier, & Munchausen by Proxy: Part 13 – Pediatric Challenge

In my previous posts, I review the work of Drs. Judith “Judy” Libow, psychologist, and Dr. Herbert Schreier, psychiatrist, who wrote extensively about MSbP in the 1990s. In the next two posts, I focus on two 1994 articles they co-authored, and the scientific reaction to the second of these two articles, which introduces a new voice to the discussion: the voice of Dr. Donald J. Carek.

Libow & Schreier Present a Modern Pediatric Challenge

The first article I will cover titled “Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome: A Modern Pediatric Challenge,” which we have in its entirety in the Clinician crossing his armsProxy Project library.

I skimmed the article and realized I was confused as to the purpose of the article. That’s because it seemed to be a review of the MSbP literature at first, but then presented a case study, which is a weird mix for a scientific article. Usually they include one kind of information or another kind, but not both.

The authors declare: “This article provides a brief discussion of the key issues and a case example of MBPS,” but do not say, “The purpose of this article…” or “The objective of this article…” so I still at a loss as to why they actually wrote it.

The article name implies they are going to give advice to “pediatricians” as to how to handle the “challenge” of MSbP, but neither of them are pediatricians, so I guess that’s why this article did not actually do that. The article briefly mentions a few numbers from the literature, provides a summary of guidelines for “suspecting and identifying” MSbP from their “Hurting for Love” book (which I discuss in previous posts), and then jumps into a case, which provides them another soapbox for musing on their philosophical ideas behind why a mother would do this to a child.

Grim Foreshadowing

Libow & Scheier’s work may be unscientific and misguided in places, but that is certainly not a unique problem nor a reason to ignore their work. Many researchers’ works are unscientific and misguided.

What is particularly spooky – and I would argue, damaging – about their work, however, is how they downplay these female murderers because they a female. They recharacterize everything these female perpetrators do into something that is not serial killing, and they somehow turn it into something harmless. This quote from the end of their article says it all:

Although there are resemblances in MBPS to the kind of psychopathy seen in unrepentent murderers, the women with MBPS remind us much more of the female anorexic patient than of the male psychopathic murderer.

The difference is – female anorexics don’t murder their children. MSbP mothers are actually psychopathic murderers. I wonder how they didn’t notice that!

Sunset with stones

A Clinical Fable

In my next post, I review an article by Libow & Schreier with an unfortunate title: A clinical fable for our times.

Can a woman be a serial murderer?

Read this article on a nurse who “attempted serial neonaticides” in a nursery and you decide!

Picture of clinician by TheHilaryClark. Sunset by TMDaub.

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5 thoughts on “Libow, Schreier, & Munchausen by Proxy: Part 13 – Pediatric Challenge

  1. “What is particularly spooky – and I would argue, damaging – about their work, however, is how they downplay these female murderers because they a female. They recharacterize everything these female perpetrators do into something that is not serial killing, and they somehow turn it into something harmless.”

    Mother Love is something people have been extremely reluctant to challenge. This is why I am so taken with the works of the late Alice Miller, expectially her first 3 books, “Drama of the Gifted Child”, “For Your Own Good”, “Thou Shalt Not Be Aware”.

    Nomadic

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    • Nomadic,

      I could never respond to all your interesting points – there are too many! – but I am really struck by how you picked up on the “gifted” thing being a very sinister label. I was labeled gifted and I think a lot of MSbP survivors were, too. Either that, or developmentally disabled (when maybe we were neither). Kent also talks about how the affirmative bias is in play – as you said, “Mother Love is something people have been extremely reluctant to challenge” – you are right.

      -Monika

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  2. My grandmother killed four of her own children. I would argue that women have successfully killed in a serial manner for centuries, simply because no one thought they could, and thus did not look at them as suspects. Even in cases where it’s overt (Susan Smith, Andrea Yates), people want to know why the mother did it… but not particularly how to spot and prevent such killers.

    The fascination with the mind of a killer is fine in theory, but in practice, it is only worthwhile if it leads to early detection and intervention to save lives, IMO. That said, bear in mind I survived a survivor of a MSbP mom, and survived her as a MSbP grandmother, so I’m far more interested in pragmatic measures than in unanswerable questions.

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