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Scientific Studies

This section looks at some of the scientific work on the disability devotee and wannabe phenomena.

For many devotees, our unusual interest causes much guilt, anxiety and soul searching. Understanding a bit more about the psychology involved may shed some light on why people feel as they do. Some may question if they even have "a condition" needing to be treated and perhaps they are right. So, this section explores what some of the experts have said on the matter.

Dr John Money

The books and papers by Dr John Money (et al) from the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, USA are a good starting point for those researching this condition whether from the perspective of scientific enquiry or as a devotee or wannabe. In his book Lovemaps Money coined the term disability paraphilia to describe people fascinated by disabilities. Some people are not happy to classify this fascination/ attraction as a paraphilia - they may be correct, I'm not sure. Specifically, Money termed the attraction to legbraces, wheelchairs, and the people who use them, abasiophilia. Money talks about treatments for severe antisocial paraphilic behaviours using the drugs such as Depo-Provera.

Dr Richard Bruno

In 1998, Dr Bruno published a study of a number of disability wannabes that you may find informative. Please read the study and perhaps let him have your comments. I'm sure he'd appreciate the feedback. Dr Bruno's paper has a list of useful references worth reading.

His view is that many devotees/wannabes suffer from a form of factitious disorder. Factitious disorders are usually treated medically through drugs such as Seroxat, Paroxetine, Faverin or Fuvoxamine. These are drugs used to treat obsessional traits. In factitious disorders people are totally dominated by their cravings. This is certainly a common trait of devotees.

Drs Cordier, Thibaut and Kuhn

In May 1996, in Psychoneuroendocrinology. 21(4):411-9, Messrs Cordier, Thibaut and Kuhn reported a treatment that appears to reduce paraphilic tendencies without side effects. See the paper extract below for more details of their claims.

Six patients with severe paraphilia were treated with a long-acting gonadotrophin hormone releasing hormone analogue (GnRH-a). In five cases, the antiandrogen treatment ended their deviant sexual behaviour and markedly decreased their sexual fantasies and activities without significant side-effects. The beneficial effects of this treatment were maintained for 7 years in the patient where there was the longest follow-up. Two patients abruptly withdrew front their antiandrogen treatment at the end of the first and third year, respectively. Both relapsed within 8-10 weeks. One of them asked for resumption of antiandrogen treatment. In another case, in order to phase out antiandrogen treatment, testosterone (T) was added to the GnRH-a. In spite of normal T levels, and of resumption of normal sexual activities and deviant fantasies, deviant sexual behaviour did not return. A smoother phasing out of GnRH-a treatment is thought to be better than an abrupt withdrawal. However, the duration of antiandrogen treatment necessary to ensure a complete disappearance of deviant sexual behaviour remains uncertain, but is at least 4 years.

Other views

Possibly devotees and wannabes suffer from a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) in which the brain can be overloaded with obsessive and irrational thoughts.

One view is that wannabes suffer from a conversion disorder in which people have a deep seated psychological conflict and subconsciously assume invalidism. Yet another view is that it is a form of dysmorphophobia or dysmorphobia. With body dysmorphic disorders people have an obsessive concern about the appearance of their body or part of it. The latter is sometimes linked to people who wish to be amputees although this is more commonly, and more correctly, classified as apothemnophobia.

Someone has suggested to me that devoteeism may be a form of survivor guilt a bit like the survivor of a plane crash sometimes is said to feel. In our childhood back in the 1930s, 40s and 50s many of us were deeply affected by the sight of our friends being severely disabled by polio. Maybe we inwardly feel some kind of guilt for getting through life without being physically disabled when others were not so lucky?

Certainly most devotees were youngsters in the 1930s, 40s or 50s and report first being aware of their feelings at that time. The images of kids in the polio posters in the UK certainly disturbed me for reasons I could never understand. Was it fear? Was I afraid of it being ME next?

No doubt those feelings also troubled many who were youngsters in the USA in the 1940s and 1950s seeing those famous March of Dimes poster on billboards. After all, the posters shocked a nation into finding a polio vaccine so perhaps this shock reaction was a intentional?

Or is it to do with sexual repression or guilt associated with our sexuality or our gender?

One thing is certain: to call it a sexual fetish is usually very far removed from the truth for many people. The mechanisms involved appear far more complex although for many it does have a strong sexual element. By the way, the sexual element appears less strong, or even absent, for wannabes.

What comes through time and again is that some complex set of circumstances in childhood had a very deep impact on most, if not all, of us. This "mal-imprinting" or whatever it was is a fact of life. People have to live with and deal with it one way or another to remain sane