Analyzing Anya’s Bunny Phobia

PSYCHOLOGICAL REPORT

Name: Aud AKA Anyanka AKA Patron Saint of The Women Scorned AKA Anya Emerson AKA Anya Christina Emanuella Jenkins
Year of Birth: 806
Year of Interview: 2002
Therapists: Katie Gordon, Brandon Saxton

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Presenting Problem
Anya’s employer, Rupert Giles, referred her for a psychological evaluation because her fear of bunnies was affecting her ability to work effectively as a cashier at The Magic Box. While the store primarily provided witchcraft-related supplies such as crystals and ingredients needed for spells (e.g., raven’s feathers, rat’s eyes), some customers would enter looking for magic trick supplies. Occasionally, aspiring magicians would request rabbits for pulling-out-of-hat purposes, and Anya would scream at the customer, “Get the HELL out of the store and never come back!” Those customers would then spread the word about what had happened, and there would be a notable decrease in sales. Giles had tolerated Anya’s, shall we say, “brusque” interpersonal style, but this particular problem led him to fire Anya. She said she loved money and business (as evidenced by her attempt to sell her children for money while playing the board game, Life, and her performance of The Dance of Capitalist Superiority as she closed the cash register) and begged Giles to let her stay at the store. He allowed her to continue with the contingency that she must seek treatment to reduce her rabbit fears.

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History
Anya was born as Aud in Sweden in the 9th century and actually bred and raised rabbits during that time period. After a boyfriend cheated on her, she used magic to punish him (e.g., turning him into a troll). Anya’s spiteful acts drew attention from a demon who specialized in vengeance. He granted her immortality and gave her a powerful amulet that allowed her to fulfill wishes of scorned women. For centuries, as Anyanka, she executed these wishes all over the world.

In 1998, a Sunnydale High School student named Cordelia was brokenhearted that her boyfriend, Xander, had cheated on her with his best friend, Willow. Disguised as a student named Anya Emerson, Anyanka befriended Cordelia and persuaded her to wish for revenge on Xander. Cordelia linked her romance problems to Buffy’s arrival and wished that Buffy had never moved to Sunnydale. Once Giles discovered this, he destroyed Anyanka’s amulet, which took away her powers and immortality.

After some significant time had passed, she started dating Xander and ultimately proved herself helpful to his friends (who called themselves The Scooby Gang) as they fought the vampires, demons, and other Big Bads in Sunnydale. Anya had proven that she was reformed into a trustworthy person….so much so, that Giles hired her at The Magic Box.

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Diagnostic & Assessment Information
All assessment information was obtained through watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer and by consulting this amazingly detailed Buffyverse wiki. Due to the nature of Giles’ expressed concerns, Anya was evaluated for Specific Phobia, Animal Type. According to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, an individual has a specific phobia when they exhibit a “marked fear or anxiety about a specific object or situation” that lasts a minimum of six months and “the fear, anxiety, or avoidance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.”

We asked Anya to give us some examples that would help us better understand her relationship with bunnies, and she named the following events:

  1. On Halloween, Xander asked her to dress as something scary and she showed up in an adorable & funny bunny costume. While this shows a certain ability to not avoid all bunny-related stimuli, it also indicates the presence of a marked fear.

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2. She was doing a spell that accidentally made a bunny appear, and she had an exaggerated response, jumping back in fear.

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3. She sees a cute, little stuffed rabbit and, startled, she says, “Who would put this here? Is this some kind of sick joke?”

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4. When Sunnydale was overtaken by a musical spell, the Scoobies went around guessing who was responsible for it, and Anya proclaimed that bunnies were responsible through the following lyrics, “Bunnies aren’t just cute like everyone supposes. They got them hoppy legs and twitchy little noses, and what’s with all the carrots!? What do they need such good eyesight for anyway!? Bunnies, bunnies, it must be bunnies!!”

5. Xander suggested that it might be nice if they were up against a cult who was bunny-worshipping some time instead of the usual evil-worshippers. Anya replied, “Thank you very much for those nightmares.”

Treatment Recommendations
In summary, Anya appeared to meet diagnostic criteria for Specific Phobia, Animal Type, and it caused significant impairment in her place of employment. Currently, there is strong scientific research supporting exposure therapy as the frontline treatment for phobias. There are a variety of approaches to exposure therapy, with the commonality that each involves the individual habituating to the feared stimuli through facing, rather than avoiding, it. Please click here for more details on exposure and/or watch this excellent, informative video by Dr. Ali Mattu:

THE GORDON/SAXTON TEST

1. Was the portrayal of mental illness accurate?

Mostly, Anya’s phobia is used as a type of comic relief in the series. While phobias and their associated distress and impairment are not funny, the humor often comes through highlighting the irrational part of phobia-related fears. At times, Anya displays typically phobic behaviors (e.g., nightmares, exaggerated fear responses, avoidance). However, her anger toward the phobic object is not quite as typical. Overall, Anya is an awesome character, and her portrayal shows that someone who has bravely faced many awful things is not immune to a specific phobia of a benign stimuli.

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2. Was the character struggling with mental health issues depicted with compassion?

Compassion for Anya is generally demonstrated throughout the show (e.g., people tend to forgive her abrasive interpersonal ways and accept her feelings about bunnies), but as mentioned above, her fear of bunnies is mostly treated as another quirky, funny aspect of Anya. She was literally a demon for over 1000 years, and yet, bunnies frighten her. In real life, phobias can cause substantial distress and problems for people who are afflicted by them. Fortunately, as mentioned above, they tend to be highly responsive to exposure therapy.

Overall rating
On a scale of Energizer to Bugs, we rate this depiction as Thumper!

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