Clinical Lycanthropy Research Paper:
What is clinical lycanthropy and where does it originate from?
The werewolf legend is a story known to many and has been passed on from one generation to another. Such stories tell of a fearsome creature that transforms into a human until the full moon after which it becomes a bloodthirsty and a senseless beast. However, it is common knowledge that werewolves do not exist. All the same, the human mind houses even more dazzling mysteries and clinical lycanthropy is one of them with thirteen cases being reported so far since 1850. The term clinical lycanthropy is used to refer to a rare psychiatric condition that involves delusions that the person suffering from this condition is transforming or has already transformed into an animal (Blom, 2009). Clinical lycanthropy is, therefore, characterized by people acting like the animal that the condition makes them think they are.
Origins of clinical lycanthropy
The term clinical lycanthropy is derived from the Greek words klinicos which pertains to a bed, lukos which refers to a wolf and anthropos which refers to a man (Blom, 2009). Several writers have written about clinical lycanthropy linking it to historical developments. For instance, Catherine Clark Kroegar has associated the condition with people in the Bible. For example, she argued that Kind Nebuchadnezzar demonstrated clinical lycanthrope-like behavior when he started to eat grass (Melhorn, 2015). Another important insight into history is by Andrew J. Larner, a neurologist, who argues that the Odysseus crew fate at Circle’s hands as one of the earliest instances of clinical lycanthropy (Melhorn, 2015). Clinical lycanthropy was first considered as a medical condition in the second century. During this time, Paulus Aegineta, an Alexandrian physician, linked lycanthropy to melancholy (Melhorn, 2015). A Lutheran physician also argued that melancholic humor imbalances in werewolves made them exhibit physical symptoms of sunken, dry and dim eyes and paleness (Melhorn, 2015). The perception of the link between animalistic behavior and mental illnesses can be historically traced through folklores from different countries.
Individuals suffering from clinical lycanthropy report of a delusional belief that they are either transforming into an animal or the transformation has already been completed. Such belief has been associated with altered mental states that are linked with psychosis (a reality-modifying mental state that is characterized by delusions and hallucinations) (Melhorn, 2015). As such, the transformation only seems to occur in mind as well as the behavior of the person suffering from the condition. Melhorn (2015) reported on a study from the McLean Hospital whose findings led to the proposition of diagnostic criteria for clinical lycanthropy. The diagnostic criteria include that the patient tells of moments that he or she sometimes felt like an animal or felt like one (Melhorn, 2015). The second criterion is that the patient may behave in a way that is similar to animal behavior for instance growling, crying or creeping (Melhorn, 2015). As such, using the above criteria, any person who reports of a delusional belief of transformation into an animal in the present or the past or portrays behavior that is suggestive that the person thinks that he or she has transformed is regarded as evidence of clinical lycanthropy.
According to the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria, Clinical Lycanthropy is seen as a cultural presentation of schizophrenia based on the four symptomatic criteria (Melhorn, 2015). The first symptom is delusions, and this applies to the condition because anyone who believes to have morphed into an animal is delusional. Hallucinations are the second symptom, and this also applies to clinical lycanthropy because individuals suffering from the condition have vivid hallucinations that they are an animal and therefore possess the traits of an animal such as claws, fangs, fur among others (Melhorn, 2015). The third symptom is disorganized speech. Individuals suffering from clinical lycanthropy produce sounds of animals that they believe they have turned into. The last symptom is grossly disorganized behavior, and this symptom matches schizophrenia. Such behavior is appropriate to those individuals because they assume the lives of animals such as picking up their diet or living outside.
According to Melhorn (2015), werewolves are not the only animals that individuals suffering from clinical lycanthropy think they have transformed into. Different people have reported a wide variety of animals in their transformation experience. Other animals include dogs, hyenas, horses, cats, tigers among others. Cases of serial transformation from one animal to another have also been reported.
Clinical lycanthropy is seen as an idiosyncratic manifestation of a psychotic episode resulting from other disorders such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or clinical depression. There are also suggestions that cultural influences and neurological conditions can cause the perceived aspect of human-animal transformation which forms the core of the condition (Melhorn, 2015). Modern science has been instrumental in understanding clinical lycanthropy and thereby the condition is no longer viewed through the metaphysical lens. It is theorized that clinical lycanthropy is as a result of a physical imbalance in the brain. A person’s perception of their body is a responsibility of certain areas of the brain, in particular in the cerebral cortex. Unusual activity in such areas has been reported in findings of neurological studies (Melhorn, 2015). Such evidence suggests that an individual who reports of his or her body shape changing, it is possible that they genuinely perceive that feeling like a form of a neurological trick rather than a psychological break.
All the same, it remains mysterious why people believe they are transforming into a specific animal. Most people report of a feeling that they are transforming to for instance a dog or a wolf. This begs the question whether one knows the animal he or she perceives to be transforming or already transformed into. This phenomenon can be understood by factoring in cultural influences. Different cultures have spread the narrative of shape-shifting through stories since ancient times (Melhorn, 2015). These range from African werecats to china’s dog-gods stories. It, therefore, appears that humans have always been obsessed with the idea of transforming into wild animals. The animals have been ingrained in the culture such that the cultural association has made people relate to animal traits and personalities. As such, this can explain that clinical lycanthropy patients have a specific definition of the animal they believe they are transforming into.
Primitivism.com (2016) reports on a journal article A case of Lycanthropy which was published in The American Journal of Psychiatry in 1977. The case involved a 49-year-old married woman who underwent psychiatric evaluations since she had delusions of transforming into a wolf. The woman said that she believed she had claws and that she was losing control of herself. The woman would dream of wolves, and at one time, she assumed a posture depicting that of a female wolf engaging in sexual activity an episode that continued for about twenty minutes. The following night’s episode lasted two hours after intercourse and during that episode, she growled, gnawed and scratched at the bed. This is just one of the cases of clinical lycanthropy that have been reported this far.
Dr. Jan Dirk Blom who is an assistant professor of psychiatry at the Netherlands’ University of Groningen searched psychiatry archives and found that so far only 56 cases have been reported of people believing to be morphing into animals (Gholipour, 2014). Thirteen of the cases met clinical lycanthropy criteria. Dr. Jan Dirk Blom says that there is a possibility that many cases are missed in clinical practice given that many mental health specialists are insufficiently aware of the uniqueness and existence of clinical lycanthropy. The review by Dr. Blom showed that 25% of patient in the 56 cases were diagnosed with schizophrenia while 23% and 20% received a psychotic depression and bipolar disorder respectively (Gholipour, 2014). As such, schizophrenia, severe depression, and bipolar disorder seem to be the underlying causes of clinical lycanthropy.
Currently, distinct clinical lycanthropy treatments do not exist. Since the condition is believed to result from an underlying state of psychosis or psychiatric disorders including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, the approach has been to treat the underlying condition (Melhorn, 2015). Brain imaging techniques help psychiatrist to identify brain abnormalities that may give rise to changes in the sense of self. While clinical lycanthropy is a rare condition, it is a true psychiatric condition that can affect anyone and therefore medical help should be sought as soon as one clinical lycanthropy signs and symptoms start to manifest.
Blom, J. D. (2009). A dictionary of hallucinations. Springer Science & Business Media.
Gholipour, B., (2014). Real-Life Werewolves: Psychiatry Re-Examines Rare Delusion. Retrieved 14 December 2016, from http://www.livescience.com/44875-werewolves-in-psychiatry.html
Melhorn, G., (2015). The esonteric codex: shapeshifters. Lulu.com
Primitivism.com, (2016). A Case of Lycanthropy. Retrieved 14 December 2016, from http://www.primitivism.com/lycanthropy.htm