Understanding Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy

Understanding Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy


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Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy is one rare disorder that many people understand about in the field of health science. However, MSP remains a challenging diagnosis that requires a serious medical attention. The disorder is characterized by persistent symptoms and signs that are hard to explain regardless of extensive testing. Gaining use in 1977, the term Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy refers to a mental disorder whereby a person fake illness or induce injuries to people under their care to serve his /her attention needs (Lindahl, 2009). In most cases, MSP scenarios involve mothers and little children or elderly people. This paper seeks to establish an in-depth understanding of Munchausen Syndrome by proxy regarding possible problems and the consequences.

Potential Problems Associated with Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy

Since the discovery of MSP in 1977, medical practitioners have been keen in diagnosing the disorder in its early stages using common signs and symptoms. However, regardless of notable strong cases, some problems still arise regarding Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. One of the possible problems is overusing the term MSP.  This is frequently observed in the scenarios that require legalization of a medical case and medicalization of a legal situation. For instance, in a situation that requires legalization of a medical issue, a legal investigator may presume there have to be clear diagnostic criteria involving a known victim and a defined perpetrator (Byard, 2009). However, an individual handling the matter from a legal perspective may fail to understand in a health field; a syndrome does not imply a diagnosis. Overenthusiastic use of the concept of MSP is another possible problem. For instance, parents who are genuinely over-concerned about their children’s welfare and health may be stigmatized by such diagnosis. Similar scenarios may be inflicted to the children suffering from this rare illness, but these scenarios are genuine and a concern. From these perspectives, the diagnosis of MSP may lead to conflicting issues due to the absence of distinct features concerning the term (Gosselin, 2014).  This may result in more harm being experienced rather than the anticipated preventive objectives.  Such occasions have seen several courts declaring MSP as a simple type of behaviors rather a mental illness or a psychological disorder.

Another possible problem associated with MSP is the use of the term synonymously in the health field.  This has led to a frequent urge to seek defined diagnostic features. For instance, psychiatrists and legal officers usually find themselves in a puzzle in determining who is suffering from MSP between proxy and Munchausen component. However, numerous studies have revealed that no one suffers from Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. For example, according to Gosselin (2014), MSP refers to a certain set of occurrences rather than a medical diagnosis. Moreover, despite the perpetrator being seen as a criminal committing child abuse, studies have shown that a Munchausen component usually suffers from certain mental problems (Byard, 2009). Case in point, the perpetrator, may be a victim of a child abuse or neglect in his/her early childhood stages. In this context, terms such as induced illness or inflicted fabricated may serve a better purpose, while describing such scenarios compared to MSP. This will lead to the description of such situation without having to link it to any form of psychiatric illness. As a result, the legal investigators who are frequently confronted with such cases can make sound decisions.



Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy as a Form of Child Abuse

According to Gosselin (2014), children tend to be the typical victims of the Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy in the hands of their parents/guardians. MSP cases involving children may take a long period before being detected. It’s only after frequent injuries and illness the doctor may start suspecting it as a form of child abuse. Characteristics of the child are one of the factors that determines the consequences of an ill-treatment of children. According to Lindahl (2009), the majority the children who are victims of MSP are observed to be aged less than eight years. The children in this age bracket are less aware of acts the caregiver inflict on them. This correlates with other forms of child abuse. However, the symptoms of a child abused by a perpetrator with an MSP tend to disappear when under medical care, but worsen when at home.  For instance, repeated illnesses, injuries escalate when the child is under parental care. This is in contrast with other forms of child abuse such as child labor.

The type of trauma is another factor that influences the consequence of an ill-treatment of children. Any abuse of children leads to injury in the long run as the victim starts becoming aware of the vice. For instance, children who have suffered or survived MSP related abuse are observed to experience depression and anxiety in later stages of life. Such long-lasting impacts are also seen in other forms of child abuse such forced labor. Traumatic events in both cases may lead to reduced self-esteem of the victim. However, Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy induced trauma differs with other forms of child abuse in several areas. For instance, the victims of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy have a higher risk of turning out to be perpetrators either to themselves or others (Lindahl, 2009).

The type of abuse or neglect also has an upper hand on the consequences of the ill-treatment of children. For instance, a parent who exposes an illness to a child may have the victim undergo risky and painful medical tests that are unnecessary.  As a result, the child might develop trauma due to frightening medical examinations and resulting pain. The situation is worsened when the proprietor alters with the child medication process that may lead to more complications or even death (Byard, 2009).  The relationship between the parents and children also highly determines the consequences of child abuse. In a Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy, the proprietor, and the victim may appear to have a healthy relationship. However, the caregiver only inflicts the vice in private. Compared to other forms of child abuse, the victim, and the proprietor may have a rough relationship.


In a recap, Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSP) remains a controversial disorder as it tends to cross cut between the legal and medical fields. As a result, there are several problems that may arise from this condition.  This includes oversimplification of the MSP cases by judicial officers, overenthusiastic use of MSP concept, misjudging genuine cases as MSP cases among others. As a form of child abuse, several factors determine the consequences of the vice to the victim. For instance, the characteristic of the child, types of trauma, types of the abuse, the parents-children relationship among others.



Byard, R. W. (2009). Munchausen syndrome by proxy: Problems and possibilities. Forensic Sci Med Pathol, 5(2), 100-101.

Gosselin, D. K. (2014). Heavy hands: An introduction to the crimes of family violence (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River,Nj: Prentice Hall.

Lindahl, M. W. (2009). Beyond munchausen by proxy: A proposed conceptualization for cases of recurring, unsubstantiated sexual abuse allegations. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 18(1), 206-220.




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