Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome (MBPS)

MBPS is a rare psychological condition which can often result in child abuse. Sometimes called ‘medical child abuse’ the condition usually affects parents or caregivers and causes leads them to either fake or cause the symptoms of illness in their children so that they can get attention (the ‘by proxy’ aspect refers to the fact that they are causing the problem in others and not themselves). While this generally affects caregivers, an individual may also cause a partner or other close loved one to become ill. The name ‘Munchausen’ comes from the 18th century German dignitary who was infamous in his time for fabricating stories to get attention.


In MBPS an individual will deliberately exaggerate, cause or fabricate illness in a child in order to get attention. Usually this is aimed predominantly at getting attention from medical workers and this often comes from the fact that they believe those working that profession to be more ‘important’ or ‘powerful’ than themselves and enjoy the excitement that comes from the attention.


MBPS is very difficult to diagnose and often goes unnoticed as it goes against the idea of the loving Mother who will do anything to protect her child. Signs of MBPS might be a child whose illness doesn’t seem to respond to treatment, who has multiple different problems and who has multiple unconnected conditions that take a puzzling course.

In many cases the parent will be familiar with the medical profession and will have a good knowledge of human biology in order to be able to accurately fake or induce the illness in their child without arousing suspicion. They may also exhibit an unnatural ‘fascination’ with medicine and medical workers in particular. In most cases the children of MBPS sufferers will be pre-schoolers and they may be either boys or girls.

A medical worker may notice that the parent is overly supportive and attentive compared to others, and often the parent may attempt to get attention in other ways as well – reporting burglaries and house fires that occurred to them. In 93% of cases the abuser will be the mother, though in some rare cases it may even be member of medical staff who prolong the stay of a patient. Of course one of the most obvious ways to identify an abusive parent is if the problems stop when the parent is separated from the child.


MBPS is a psychiatric condition and while the causes are complex and may vary, often the individual will have gone through physical or sexual abuse themselves as a child. They may also have been raised in an environment where being sick was perceived as one of the only ways to get love and attention. Generally the parent with MBPS will suffer other psychiatric problems such as psychosis, depression, schizophrenia and psychopathy.

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