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Clinical Lycanthropy: The Animal Transformation Delusion

Patients who are experiencing Clinical Lycanthropy were suffering from Schizophrenia / Phooto by Katarzyna Bialasiewicz via 123RF

 

The supernatural transformation of a man into an animal, usually a wolf is often dramatically portrayed in fiction. Usually, these are depicted in novels and movies as occurring during a full moon, psu.edu says. In the same way, when a patient suffers Clinical Lycanthropy, they believe they are physically turning into some kind of animal. Clinical Lycanthropy is defined by The Gist as “a psychiatric condition which involves a delusion that the sufferer is transforming or has transformed into an animal.” This also known by the name Lycomania.

Paulus Aegineta, an Alexandrian physician, was one of the first to document Clinical Lycanthropy, which he theorized was caused by having too much black bile or melancholy. In 1563, Johan Weyer affirmed this when he saw that patients who affected by it showed symptoms of having excess melancholy. He noted that they were dehydrated, possessed “sunken” and “dim” eyes, and had pale skin. It has only been recently that the condition was found to be associated with neurological impairments.

Prevalence

According to Dr. John Dirk Blom, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Groningen, there have been 56 case reports of patients suffering from Clinical Lycanthropy. He has been investigating this psychiatric condition since 1850. Among these cases, 13 showed that some patients reported that they believe they were transforming into wolves. The rest of the cases pertained to other delusional animal transformations such as thinking that they were gradually becoming a bee, frog, dog or a snake, a research published in the journal History of Psychiatry states.

Blom says that he had expected to find more cases of Clinical Lycanthropy since several textbooks discuss it briefly. It turns out that even after over 150 years, there have only been few reports of patients being affected by it, so it is actually a very rare condition. He discovered that it was more prevalent in men than women. The symptoms were found to last from an hour to a decade. He also found that 25% of the patients who experienced Clinical Lycanthropy were also suffering from Schizophrenia, 23% struggled with psychotic depression and 20% are affected by Bipolar Disorder.

It was in 1582 when Clinical Lycanthropy was first documented. It was a case that involved a man who was sent to an asylum in France who believed he was becoming a wolf. Blom elaborates, “To demonstrate this, [he] parted his lips with his fingers to show his alleged wolf’s teeth,  and complained that he had cloven feet and a body covered with long hair.” He continued that the man from the asylum said that he only desired to consume raw meat. However, when other people provided the man with raw meat, he would decline due to it not being rotten enough.

 

Clinical Lycanthropy delusions were may be caused by trauma in the past / Photo by Katarzyna Bialasiewicz via 123RF

 

Causes and Symptoms

Clinical Lycanthropy is noted to be caused by mental illnesses and other neurological factors, The Odyssey says. It may be induced by changes in the regions of the brain that are involved with the perception of one’s body shape.

Blom states that this may be attributed to neural circuits in the brain. He specifically mentions that the sensory cortical and subcortical areas are important in forming the body structure. Livescience.com explains simply that the brain regions that are part of this process are some areas of brain’s cortex or its outer layer. Blom also states that in 1905, French neurologists used to diagnose delusions about body appearance that were prompted by defects in some areas of the brain as coenaesiopathy.

Pacific Standard says that there are different explanations as to why people with Lycanthropy have delusions. Psychoanalysts say it may be caused by trauma or conflict in the past that has not been dealt with. Since they are unable to deal with this trauma, they resort to their primitive instincts so they would not feel any guilt. A second explanation is that it may have been brought about by the confusion a person feels as they try to adapt to their puberty stage. Psychologists perceive it as a primitive way of expressing their aggressive and sexual desires. Other experts argue that it is a form of depersonalization. Still, some infer it may be because of evolutionary history.

Some cultural factors may also make an individual more susceptible to developing this disorder.

It is also explained as a mixture of psychotic episodes triggered by other mental conditions like clinical depression and bipolar disorder. Some of its symptoms include having delusions of becoming an animal, having hallucinations that they have animal body parts (for example, fangs, fur, and claws), producing animal sounds that are similar to the animal they believe they have become, and display grossly disorganized behavior (like eating raw meat and living outside). These four symptoms are related to schizophrenia.

Treatment

To be able to detect any issues in the brain that are associated with delusions about body image, psychiatrists use brain imaging techniques like the electroencephalogram (EEG).

People who suffer from Clinical Lycanthropy may be treated by medications. Doctors may prescribe medicines such as antidepressants and antipsychotics to lessen their delusions and hallucinations.

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