Reuters and Newsweek have a story out on a recent study regarding people who self-identify as “real vampires”. DN takes a look at the research and ends up with more questions than answers.
It is not easy being a vampire, and even harder to come out of the coffin to a physician or therapist for fear they will misinterpret the habit of ingesting the blood of willing donors or succumb to
“Coming out of the coffin” to social workers can be challenging, new research says
A print of the study, published in Critical Social Work, V16 No. 1 is reproduced here in entirety.
Abstract: Helping professionals in multiple disciplines, including social workers, are commonly taught to embrace human diversity, think critically, empower clients, and respect client self-determination. Indeed, much of clinical practice with clients is predicated on such professional values, which are important to the establishment of a strong therapeutic alliance and an effective treatment outcome. This study applies qualitative measures, such as an open-ended questionnaire and creative analytic practice (CAP) strategy in the form of poetic representation, to provide insights into how people with a specific nontraditional identity, that of “real vampire,” feel about disclosing this salient identity to helping professionals within a clinical context. As a CAP method, poetic representation is valuable in acknowledging participants’ subjective realities and preserving emotional intensity in participants’ responses. Results suggest that nearly all participants were distrustful of social workers and helping professionals and preferred to “stay in the coffin” for fear of being misunderstood, labeled, and potentially having to face severe repercussions to their lives.
The authors, DJ Williams and EE Prior of Idaho State Univ., explain that “real vampires” are those that feel the need to obtain “energy” to sustain themselves, either “psychic” energy or actual blood from a willing human donor (or animal). This self-identification is contrasted to “lifestyle” vampires who enjoy the cultural aspects. “Real” vampires “report that without occasional feeding, their overall health and well-being will suffer.” They contend that this is not a choice but, like sexual orientation, it is part of them.
The purpose of the study in social work was to assess if the vampirism was revealed to the social clinician, how it was received and why or why not they would disclose it at all. The underlying point was that therapists should be nonjudgemental to alternative identities and overcome the myth of vampirism.
11 participants were chosen from a community of people who identify this way. Nine of the 11 considered themselves Pagan or Wiccan, 82% identified with female gender. The authors note that these people are ordinary in real life. The study seemed to be making a point warning against pathologizing based on common social discourse.
The participants were asked to use poetic representation to express their emotion at disclosure to the clinicians. This was seen to be an aide to reflect human compassion. The study results showed that self-identified vampires were very fearful about disclosing their situation to clinicians. “They did not want to be judged as being wicked or evil or viewed as being psychotic, delusional or having a psychological problem.”
So, what’s clear is that this is not like a typical scientific study.
While this condition is interesting, this study in the mainstream news is problematic.
It may be used as evidence vampires are “real”. The study in no way supplies evidence for why someone would physically need to eat blood or feed on nonexistent psychic energy. It deliberately avoids that. But using such terms does legitimize them in the mind of the public. The lead author clearly exudes an affinity for this community, stressing that there are probably more of these vampires than we think. As the Newsweek piece notes, self-identity is a big issue these days with major media events shedding light on transgender and “transracial” people and this vampirism is compared with being homosexual (“not a choice”). While “lifestyle” vampires are interested in role playing and spirituality of vampirism, it’s unclear that there is such a difference between those who dress like vampires and those who adopt feeding behaviors.
This kind of “vampirism” has been part of the occult underground for decades, and has gotten substantial media attention in the past. It feels “real” but is this a condition with a physical basis? Perhaps that something that does not matter to social clinicians but it trips me up.
The authors are trying to make a subtle point about the nature of their profession, repeatedly reminding readers of the need to be understanding to exhibit warmth to marginalized people, but this gets lost because the topic is vampires. You can see this in the media representation.
What is the historical depth of this concept of real vampires? Is it more likely a cultural malady? Were the authors seeking media attention with this piece? The study population is so small and even within it, the authors admit the sample is non-representative. What, if anything, does this tell us about society? It’s not clear to me.
Note: I’m not a social worker, a psychologist, vampire or occultist. Thoughtful thoughts welcome.
An anonymous academic contributed to this piece.