Talking Batman on DoxCast

We were fortunate enough to make our third guest appearance on DoxCast, a podcast hosted by folks at our favorite comic book store, Paradox Comic-N-Cards!

We talk all about Batman characters in two of them (Batgirl, Robin, The Joker, Harley Quinn, The Riddler, Two-Face, and Scarecrow)! You can check out both on Twitch here and here.

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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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The Psychology of Wonder Woman & Hippolyta

SPOILER WARNING: This post is mostly based on the movie, Wonder Woman, and it contains lots of spoilers.

Part I

Name: Diana
Age: 6ish
Occupation: Princess of Themiscyra (Paradise Island)
Therapists: Katie Gordon, Ph.D., Brandon Saxton, M.S.

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Presenting Concern:
Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, sought therapy for her daughter, Princess Diana. She was concerned that Diana was disobeying her wishes. As an immortal goddess, she was unaccustomed to having her authority defied. Yet, she often caught Diana watching the Amazons’ warrior training and asking her aunt, Antiope, to begin secretly training her in the arts of war. Hippolyta’s goal in seeking therapy was to learn effective parenting strategies to protect her daughter from the harm she feared would befall her if she began training as a fighter. She also wanted Diana evaluated for oppositional defiant disorder.

History:
Diana reported that her mother wanted a child more than anything, so she made her out of clay.  Zeus then brought her to life. Hippolyta motioned to us that she wanted to speak to us without Diana. We brought Diana out to the waiting room and returned to speaking with Hippolyta, who explained that Diana was actually Zeus’ child and given to the Amazons to protect them from Ares, the god of war. Hippolyta explained that she did not tell Diana the real story because she feared it would put her in more danger.

Hippolyta’s love for Diana was so strong that she couldn’t fathom the possibility of Ares taking her away. She said she would never recover from that kind of pain. She believed that sheltering Diana would keep her safe.

Assessment & Diagnostic Impressions
After interviewing Hippolyta alone, it became clear that Diana did not have oppositional defiant disorder. Her behavior was not causing her any distress, impairment, and was typical for her age. To the contrary, she was already highly educated (though her behavior did appear to lead to some of her teachers resigning) and fluent in numerous languages, and full of energy, bravery, and kindness. It was our impression that Hippolyta was a loving, concerned mother acting out of protection for her child and her fear of losing her.

Treatment Recommendations:
Hippolyta’s worries were founded in the reality of her situation and Diana’s destiny. We did not find that she or Diana met diagnostic criteria for any clinically significant mental health problems. However, we offered Hippolyta support with her concerns. In addition, we recommended strategies for increasing openness and reducing secrecy between she and Diana (e.g., by displaying acceptance and listening, even if her impulse was to shut down any conversations about warrior training). We provided feedback that it was evident that their mother-daughter bond had a strong foundation. They enjoyed many activities together (Diana listed bedtime stories and exploring the island as personal favorites). We encouraged Hippolyta to continue building on that relationship and that therapy was available if she wanted extra support as she navigated the healthy balance of protecting her daughter while accepting her autonomy.

Part II

Name: Princess Diana of Themiscyra (via Hippolyta)
Age: 20s-ish
Occupation: It is her sacred duty to defend the world.
Therapists: The Jedi Counsel again

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Presenting Concern:
Hippolyta returned to us to ask for guidance with Diana. A pilot’s plane crash-landed into the ocean near Themiscyra, and Diana saved his life. The pilot, Steve Trevor, explained that he was a soldier in the fight to end “the war to end all wars.” Diana told her mom that she wished to leave the island with Steve and stop the war by killing Ares and his poisonous influence on man.

History:
Hippolyta explained that, since our last appointment, she had decided to allow Diana to begin openly training with Antiope in the arts of war (rather than continuing to push her to secrecy). Hippolyta continued to protect her child, but recognized the limits of her control. She decided to prioritize trust and a close relationship by supporting Diana’s independence at a developmentally-appropriate level. Hippolyta found that talking through concerns with her sister, Antiope, helped her to clarify the line between being overprotective and protective. As a result, her relationship with her daughter had grown stronger than ever….which is why Hippolyta felt so distressed at the thought of Diana leaving Paradise Island to fight with Steve (though Hippolyta did note that he seemed like an egalitarian, intelligent man pursuing a noble mission well-suited for Diana’s abilities).

Session Notes:
Hippolyta came to us with her own wisdom about how to best handle the difficult situation. She knew that she could not control Diana, who had already decided to join Steve and help all those suffering due to the war. She recognized that her choice was to try to stop Diana, which would ultimately be unsuccessful, or to support her and have an opportunity to say good-bye. We listened to Hippolyta as she processed her feelings and thoughts about the situation and came to her own conclusion about the right decision for her family and herself.

Follow-Up:
Hippolyta reported that she was able to say good-bye to Diana, “You have been my greatest love. Today, you are my greatest sorrow.” She knew she had taken the right course of action and was grateful for the time she had with her child. We told Hippolyta that she was welcome to come back and meet with us if she wanted any support from us as she dealt with her separation from Diana. We encouraged her to seek support from others, to take good care of herself, and to feel pride in the wonderful daughter she raised with love, empathy, a commitment to peace, education, understanding, and undeniably badass warrior skills.

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Part III

Name: Princess Diana AKA Diana Prince AKA Wonder Woman
Age: 20s-ish
Occupation: Superhero
Therapists: Same ones, in our Man’s World office location

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Presenting Concern:
Diana’s friend, Etta Candy, referred her to meet with us to discuss her transition from Princess of Paradise Island to Superhero in Man’s World and the recent loss of the person she was in love with, Steve Trevor. Etta felt that her friend might benefit from speaking to professionals while coping with these drastic changes and significant stressors.

Session Notes:
Diana presented as open and willing to meet with us. She became tearful as she described losing Steve, but said that their love remained powerful. She recognized that his death meant preventing others’ suffering and that it was his way of doing his part to defend the world. She would remember him fondly and draw inspiration from the honor he exhibited. It was that type of goodness that helped her to cope with the realization that humans could sometimes do terrible, evil acts, even when they were not directly under the influence of Ares.

She described missing her mother, loved ones, and the beauty of Themiscyra. However, Diana said that she had made the right decision to leave and fulfill her sacred duty. She would not have felt okay with herself if she didn’t try to stop the war. Having recently learned that she was a goddess, Diana also contemplated what it would mean to be immortal while those around her age and die. Fortunately, in the context of her strong relationship with her mother, they had many discussions about how Hippolyta had coped with the blessings and curses of immortality. Diana felt she could draw on her mother’s wisdom as she navigated the associated privileges and pains.

Diana expressed frustration and bewilderment at the societal status of women and people of color in Man’s World. From clothes that constrain optimal battle movement to expectations to be in subordinate positions to rules about women not speaking up or being in leadership positions, Diana said she intended to fight alongside all those with a mission of equality until it was achieved. She also expressed zero intent to conform to unjust societal norms that would have her reduce her strength, powers, or peace efforts. That alone would empower countless people to follow her lead and embrace their true selves. Amazons wore their bracelets as a reminder of their past subjugation, and as a symbol to resist any return to that state. Diana also wore them to connect her to her home and Themiscyran values (they handily deflect bullets and wield energy too).

In conclusion, Diana did not feel she needed ongoing therapy to cope with her various concerns at the time. However, after having a positive experience with therapy at an earlier age, she said that she would not hesitate to return for help as-needed and left us with the wisdom that “only love could truly save the world.”

Follow-Up:
100 years later, Wonder Woman was working at the Louvre, saving people from suffering, and teaming up with Batman and Superman to defeat evil. She remains a symbol of courage, knowledge, acceptance, justice, compassion, and overall awesomeness. We look forward to seeing more of her when she teams up with the Justice League in November!

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The Gordon/Saxton Test

Was the portrayal of mental health accurate?
Wonder Woman and Hippolyta were not portrayed as exhibiting mental health issues. Despite the fictional world the characters were set in, the authenticity of their relationship and related issues was moving and made it relatable to nonfictional people too.

Was the character struggling with mental health issues depicted with compassion?
Wonder Woman is the epitome of compassion. You see it throughout the movie as a primary motivation for her actions, and that is one of many things that makes Wonder Woman so incredibly special and inspirational. Hippolyta is also portrayed in a way that elicits compassion.

Overall Rating: On a scale of Ares, god of war to Athena, goddess of wisdom, we Aphrodite, goddess of LOVED this movie!

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So many thanks to the creator of Wonder Woman, psychologist William Moulton Marston!

Also thanks to the many amazing artists, comic writers, letterers, colorists, actresses, actors, and others who have contributed to Wonder Woman’s story. Some of our favorites include Gail Simone, Renae De Liz, Ray Dillon, Susan Eisenberg, Gal Gadot, Patty Jenkins, Chris Pine, Nikola Scott, Greg Rucka, Liam Sharp, and Laura Martin!

Check out our podcast episode on our initial reactions to the movie here!

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13 Thoughts on 13 Reasons Why

**WARNING: SPOILERS APPEAR IN THIS POST.**

I watched the new Netflix series 13 Reasons Why (based on a book with the same title). This post sums up my reactions, and I am also in the process of recording detailed Jedi Counsel podcast episodes on the series with my co-host. Some people say this is art and entertainment, and therefore, exempt from social responsibility. Nonetheless, many people will watch this series, and that makes it important to view it critically and to consider its implications. My thoughts aren’t fully formed yet, but I wanted to post something as the series came out without waiting until I had it all sorted out. My feelings and opinions may develop more as I process the material for a longer period of time. I’m open and curious about other perspectives.

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  1. The series is set up as a mystery that quickly pulled me into the story. I finished the whole series within a few days. The framework for the series is that an adolescent, Hannah Baker, has died by suicide and left behind audio tapes detailing every component that she believes led up to her death. In addition, she has a methodical plan for the specific people who should listen to the tapes, how they should be listened to, and the order in which people hear them. While this is a compelling way to reveal a mystery, I believe that it contributes to stigma by painting the picture of a woman who ended her life for the purposes of getting attention from the individuals she believed ruined her life. The tone of her delivery is blaming and feels vengeful. I worry this perpetuates the myth that suicide is typically driven by desire for attention, selfishness, or revenge…which it most certainly is not.
  2. There is a scene that is explicitly blaming of one of the few kind (though not perfect) people in the series (Hannah’s friend and love interest, Clay). Hannah’s friend, Tony, tells Clay that Hannah would have been alive if he had acted differently. He later softens his tone, saying it is not Clay’s fault and Hannah is responsible for the choice that she made. Still, the blame message is there in a scene where Hannah tells Clay repeatedly to leave her alone. He reluctantly leaves the room. The show then depicts a parallel universe where the “right” things happened: Clay insists on staying despite Hannah clearly asking him to leave her alone, he turns the conversation around through persistence, Hannah feels loved, and suicide is prevented. In light of the violations of consent elsewhere in the series (including two rape scenes), I was bothered by Clay being painted as having done the wrong thing when he honored Hannah’s wishes to leave her alone.
  3.  Hannah decides, as her last attempt at help-seeking, to reach out to her school counselor about her suicidal thoughts and being the victim of rape. The counselor, insensitively and against best practice guidelines, implies she may be partially to blame (e.g., asking if she verbally said no to the perpetrator, asking if she had been drinking) and jumps right into telling her that her only choices are to: 1) report the assault or 2) to move on. She leaves the office, and he doesn’t follow-up with her in any way. He doesn’t ask for more details or conduct a suicide risk assessment, and he does not try to reach out to her parents to prevent her from harming herself. Of course, there are some counselors out there who might act in this irresponsible way. However, the vast majority would not. In a show that is viewed by a lot of young people, the depiction of the counselor matters a lot. People are already reluctant to reach out to mental health professionals. I worry people would feel even more discouraged from seeking help after seeing this terrible, judgmental, unethical interaction.
  4. The series accurately portrays some of the risk factors for suicide: social isolation, loneliness, and disconnection from others (including in the painful forms of bullying), perceiving herself as a burden (e.g., she describes herself as a “problem” for her parents and especially feels burdensome after accidentally losing some of their money), family conflict (her parents argue about issues including finances), witnessing and then being a victim of sexual assault, and hopelessness about her future (e.g., with regard to college and other plans).
  5. I appreciated the series emphasizing how crucial social connections are for health and talking about different types of loneliness – including individuals truly isolated and those who feel “lonely in a crowd.” It seemed to make the point that even apparently popular people (like Zack) can feel lonely. I believe this sends the message that anyone is vulnerable to loneliness, and we shouldn’t assume people are doing well just because they appear that way on the outside.
  6. One of the themes of the series is that – at any point – one person listening, reaching out, or doing something differently could have prevented Hannah’s suicide. Ultimately, this is a positive message. Unfortunately, I think it’s lost and distorted because it is used to blame people for their failures to save Hannah rather than demonstrating that one person could have made a difference and changed the story to a hopeful one. If the counselor or one of her parents had connected with Hannah and supported her in seeking help for her struggles, this point would have been much more persuasive. Instead, the story feels more demoralizing than inspiring to me.
  7. Hannah’s death scene is a graphic depiction of her cutting her wrists with razorblades in a bathtub. In a documentary-type episode made about the series, they said that it was to show the painful and hard-to-look-at nature of suicide. To me, it feels like a choice to make a dramatic, visually startling conclusion to the story rather than to deliver a lesson. It makes sense – this is a series meant to be watched and to get people glued to their screens- not a PSA. It’s possible that an individual who feels suicidal might see that and be afraid; however, it’s also quite plausible that an individual feeling suicidal might mistakenly view it as an end to all of Hannah’s emotional pain and problems. Anecdotally, there are cases of suicidal individuals watching scenes of suicide building up to taking their own life.
  8. There are warnings in the beginnings of episodes where there are graphic scenes (e.g., sexual assault, suicidal behavior). It would have been helpful if the episodes had information about resources, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, embedded in them too. It would be a simple way to reach a lot of people. Again, the series created a separate short documentary-like episode with mental health professionals and resources in it. However, it appears completely separately from the series (rather than as the 14th episode, for example). It would reach more people if it was connected to the full series.
  9. The pain Hannah’s parents experience after her death is excruciating. I feel this is one of the most realistic aspects of the series. It shows their horror, their confusion, their regret, and their desire to prevent other suicides from occurring. In the documentary afterwards, they suggest that this might show individuals who feel suicidal about the pain that others would experience if they died. I think this may be the case for some, but for certain individuals, tragically, they might imagine that people wouldn’t feel the same way about their death. That’s the cruelty of perceiving oneself as a burden – people struggling with mental health problems may not see how the world is better with them in it.
  10. Related to the second point, several characters clearly violate Hannah. Marcus and Bruce grab her, Tyler and Justin take and share revealing pictures without permission, and Bryce rapes her. When Hannah and Clay are starting to kiss, Clay asks, “Is this okay?” I really liked this scene because it shows how asking about consent is natural and enhances, rather than ruins, the moment. It also shows a welcome contrast in that Clay genuinely respects and cares about her feelings and perspective. Sadly, this positive point gets diminished when the scene turns into Hannah yelling for him to “get the hell out” and the suggestion that if he had only ignored her wishes, he would have saved her life (as described above).
  11. From one perspective, it seems like a point of the series is to teach bullies that their actions can lead to someone dying by suicide. However, most people who are bullied do not die by suicide – people are often remarkably resilent in the face of great adversity. It’s important that people who are on the receiving end of bullying know that. Secondly, most of the people on Hannah’s tapes are more concerned about protecting their own secrets (e.g., that Courtney is attracted to women, that Justin allowed Bryce to rape Jessica, that Ryan published Hannah’s poem without her permission) than how they hurt Hannah. If the message is supposed to be an anti-bullying one, I don’t think it really connects with bullying people in the audience. I guess that it would resonate more with people on the receiving end of bullying who feel a sense of hopelessness about the bullies having any potential for empathy and a sense that there is no help available to them.
  12. On two occasions, two adults (the counselor and the communications teacher) state that the warning signs for suicide include withdrawing from friends and family, changes in appearance, and trouble in group projects. This was a great opportunity to share the real warning signs for suicide, but unfortunately, only the first one really maps onto the list.
  13. A lighthearted, sweet aspect of the series is that Clay is different from his peers in that he cares relatively less about what other people think of him. He still cares what people, including Hannah, think of him to some extent, but he doesn’t try as hard as his peers to be something he’s not. He feels nervous around Hannah, but doesn’t ever really pretend to be someone else. He doesn’t let other people’s opinions make him feel bad about himself. Again, Clay’s not perfect (he says some mean things to Hannah and looks at a revealing picture that Tyler took without consent). But, overall, he’s smart, sensitive, caring, a good student, interested in the world beyond the walls of his school, helps others, takes reasonable caution in his decision-making, and likes geek stuff like Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. During one exchange, Hannah says to Clay, “Wow. You’re an actual nerd. There’s courage in that.” Most of the other characters in the series view themselves and their worth in terms of what their peers think of them. This generally rings true with regard to this developmental period in adolescence. It’s refreshing to see someone who has some self-acceptance and a sense of what’s right in the midst of all of the tragedy.

You can check out our first podcast episode on this series here and our second episode here.

If you or someone you know needs help, please reach out. There is hope and help is available here.