Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy

by Dr. Lorin Bradbury

Question: What is Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy, and can you give some examples?

Answer: Munchausen Syndrome is now known as Factitious disorder imposed on self. It is a mental illness, in which a person repeatedly acts as if he or she has a physical, emotional, or cognitive disorder when, in truth, he or she has caused the symptoms.

It is believed that people with this condition act this way because of an inner need to be perceived by others as ill or injured. It is not to appear to be for purpose of achieving financial gain, or other tangible benefits.

Some with this disorder will secretly injure themselves to produce symptoms of illness. They are even willing to undergo painful or risky tests, and some have been known to undergo surgeries in order to get the sympathy and special attention given to people who are truly ill.

Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy is when a caregiver creates the appearance of health problems in another person, typically a child. As with Munchausen Syndrome described above, it may include injuring the child, or altering test samples. The caregiver then presents the person being cared for, often a child, as being sick or injured. In some cases, permanent injury or death of the one being cared for may occur. As with Munchausen Syndrome, this occurs without a tangible benefit to the caregiver.

There are some famous cases that can be found by researching the subject. One is a case of a 12-year-old child that was referred by the department of otolaryngology to a psychiatric hospital with dead flies in both ears on multiple occasions.

Eventually, the child was hospitalized, and the mother was sent home, and no flies appeared. But when the child was returned to the mother, the dead flies continued to reappear to the girl’s ears. When the mother was confronted, she immediately wanted to withdraw her child from services, but eventually confessed to filling her child’s ears with dead flies. The gain to the mother for having a sick child is unknown.

Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel. For appointments, he can be reached at 543-3266. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to [email protected]

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