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Munchausen Syndrome Causes Concern

CD Knowles 12 months ago

Dear Knowles,

Okay, I’m going to start with the admission that I’m a bit of a snoop (I often suspect the worst of people, but most often I’m right). In this instance, I’m worried about a good friend of mine and her six-year-old daughter. I’ve known this friend since college (we graduated in 2004). Back then I noticed my friend, whom I’ll call Patty, was extremely accident prone. She’d cut her finger slicing bagels and need to go to the ER for stitches, slip going down the stairs and twist an ankle, fall off the porch at a crowded party, breaking an arm. The list goes on and on. When she had flu, it was worse than anyone else’s — I think you get the picture. After college, she got a dog and I remember noticing that the dog, a rescue, had as many medical issues as Patty did because she was constantly taking him to the vet. Then she married and had her daughter, Lisa. From the start, Lisa was a sickly baby who seemed to attract colds and gastric problems more than any other baby I’ve ever known. Patty has had the child in and out of the hospital ever since toddlerhood: cuts, burns, accidental falls, fevers, chronic diarrhea. I grew suspicious when it finally dawned on me that the dog stopped having recurrent issues after Lisa’s birth and that now the child was the one constantly in the medical spotlight. I started doing research on Munchausen Syndrome and the pieces fit: Patty seems to have imposed factitious disorders on herself, her dog, and finally her child in order to gain attention/ sympathy for herself. What to do? I live in a different city from Patty, but we are frequently in touch and I’m friends with her husband, too.

Thank you in advance,

Concerned Friend in Charlottesville, VA

munchausenDear Concerned Friend,

Perhaps, in this instance at least, it would be wiser to refer to yourself as a “concerned friend” as you do in your signature, rather than as a “snoop” as in your opening sentence. From the sound of it, you have every reason to be worried about your friend who shows an unhealthy pattern of behavior around her health and the health of others. Munchausen Syndrome is a factitious disorder in which a person pretends to have a disease or condition that may be serious enough to land them in the hospital by faking or producing false symptoms. Ingesting small amounts of poisonous substances could, for instance, lead to symptoms of serious bowel disease. Inserting foreign matter into urine samples could likewise produce signs of disease, as could introducing dirt or bacteria into the system. Why would a person do such a thing? In a nutshell, to get attention or feel important. Munchausen subjects do not impose their dangerous medical sabotage on themselves or others for reasons of financial gain (such as to “work” the medical system) but rather out of an unhealthy, obsessive, and chronic need for sympathy and recognition. As such Munchausen Syndrome is a mental condition, and I would suggest you speak to your friend’s husband and other concerned individuals about setting up an intervention. From everything you say, Patty has put herself and her daughter at risk, so your bringing attention to the matter is crucial.

Hope this helps.

All the best,

CD Knowles

***********************************************************therapyREACTIONS TO: IS HE CRAZY ABOUT THE THERAPIST?

Dear Going Crazy:

My advice? Tell your husband if he doesn’t get another therapist, you’re leaving! Why take the risk especially if she’s getting into his finances.

Best, Carla T. Tulsa, OK


Dear Going Crazy,

I’m a therapist who would never dream of getting involved with a client. Nor would any of my colleagues. In my twenty plus years of practice, I’ve never heard of anyone having this problem. For your husband to follow the advice of his therapist is not unusual and I doubt there’s anything going on.

All the best,

Anita F, Framingham,  MA


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Disclaimer: CD Knowles is not a doctor or psychotherapist. Any opinions expressed on Knowles Knows are just that — opinions.