What does a psychiatrist do when a patient shows up complaining of increased hair growth on his arms, hardening of his jaw and wounds inside of his mouth he believed were from growing fangs? If you’re Dr. Jan Dirk Blom of the Parnassia Psychiatry Institute in The Hague, you conduct an extensive study of similar cases since 1850 to determine if your patient really is a werewolf.
Dr. Blom published the results of his research in the current History of Psychiatry. Since 1850, he found 56 cases of people, 34 men and 22 women, claiming to occasionally turn into an animal. The creatures ranged from dogs to snakes to frogs, with only 13 people howling that they were turning into werewolves or, in medical terms, suffering from clinical lycanthropy.
In one of the more extreme cases, a man in an asylum in France mutilated his lips to make his teeth look canine and demanded only raw meat, then reused to eat it because it wasn’t rotten enough for his canis lupus taste buds.
Blom found that the common historical diagnosis of patients claiming to be werewolves or shape-shifters was an unusual variation of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or depression. Most believed they actually saw physical changes in their appearance – hair, cloven feet, claws - either on their bodies or in their mirror reflections. Psychoanalysts blamed this on problems dealing with puberty, depersonalization and the ever-popular feelings of guilt.
In his research, Blom found brain imaging studies identifying specific brain areas that are responsible for perceiving body image. Abnormalities in these regions were probably responsible for the unusual body images of those with clinical lycanthropy. This problem was identified as coenaesthesiopathy by French neurologists in 1905.
With the frequent occurrence of werewolves in books and movies, Blom had expected to find more than 13 cases. With this new diagnosis, will the number increase or decrease in the future? It may depend on Stephen King.