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AUNT JOSEPHINE ANWHISTLE CASE ANALYSIS

A Case Analysis of Aunt Josephine Anwhistle


Kaitlin Pennington
McKendree University
Abnormal Psychology
Fall 2015

A Case Analysis of Aunt Josephine Anwhistle


This paper will review the case of Aunt Josephine Anwhistle from the book and film
adaptation A Series of Unfortunate Events. Josephine is a Caucasian female, who is roughly
60-years-old. The Behavioral Model was used to conceptualize her case, and according to the
criteria, it appears as though Josephine suffers from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. This paper
will also display a review of relevant literature that indicates that PTSD shows evidence
supporting the relationship between the direct and indirect methods of experiencing trauma and
the development of mental disorders.
Case History
Aunt Josephine Anwhistle lived on the shores of Lake Lachrymose for the entirety of
her life. While living on shores, she met a man named Isaac Ike Anwhistle. Shortly after
meeting, she and Ike fell in love; they eventually married. It is made clear that Ike was the most
important aspect of Josephines life until his untimely death. While her husband was alive,

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Josephine was known to be an extremely adventurous woman. As the story is told, you discover
that one day, while she and Ike were at the beach, he spontaneously decides to go for a swim.
However, Josephine attempts to persuade him to wait a complete hour before going into the
water, because he had just ate a meal. He ignores her advice and is soon after eaten alive by
carnivorous leeches.
Psychological trauma occurs in Josephines life directly after her husbands unexpected
death. She becomes an extreme homebody and later expresses significant fear of practically
everything in the home. A great deal of cognitive dissonance was experienced by Josephine; she
appears to be having internal struggles with her unconscious in order to keep herself safe from
any potential harm. She also has a constant negative cognition about herself and the world
around her; she expresses that everything could either hurt or kill her or her loved ones.
The hereditary genes and biological health of Josephine is unknown to the reader and
viewer; therefore, it is difficult to determine if her disorders are caused by more than her
experienced trauma. It is possible, theoretically stating, that her genes allow her to be more
susceptible to developing mental disorders. There is no recorded history of medical disorders
with any of Aunt Josephines family members that are referenced in the film or book.
Social factors can also be applied to Josephines case. Her husband was a strong
influence over her lifestyle when she was young. It is expected to experience grievance when a
loved ones dies; however, the passing hinders the entirety of her life. It appears as though this
change in her microsystem caused her to stop all forms of social interaction, allowing for
deterrence in her ability to shape new relationships.
Signs and Symptoms
Aunt Josephine meets the criteria for PTSD. During the film, it is consistently made
apparent that she was exposed to the threat of the man-eating leeches that took her husbands
life. Although she experiences a great deal of fear, she continues living on the lake, and in the
house that she and Ike resided in, which provides constant reminders and memories of her late

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husband and allows for trauma stimuli. Before the death of her husband, Josephine was known
for being extremely adventurous (in the film you see various photographs of a younger version
on her taming lions and hanging from flying aircrafts). This change is obviously a negative shift
in her cognition and mood. Although it does not say when her husband specifically died, it is
made apparent that it was years previous and her behavior of being easily startled and avoiding
situations connected to the traumatic event have been going on since then.
Diagnosis
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (Barlow, D. H., & Durand, V. M. (2015)).

Exposure to the actual or threatened serious harm by living near the leeches that killed

her husband
Intrusive symptoms of trauma stimulation also by living near the leeches
She avoids the trauma stimuli by hardly ever leaving her home.
Negative changes in her mood and cognition happened after the death of her husband
Increased arousal when the idea of leaving her house is suggested
Symptoms have lasted years

Case Conceptualization
Aunt Josephines case can be conceptualized by the Behavioral Model. The Behavioral
Model posits the idea that human behavior, even dysfunctional behavior, is based on principles
of learning and adapting as a result of a cultivated behavior that was developed through classical
conditioning, operant conditioning, or social learning. Classical conditioning posits a learning
process that someone undergoes when they respond in a certain way to previously neutral
stimulus after repeatedly encountering the neutral stimulus with the other stimulus. Operant
conditioning postulates the idea that a behavior is controlled by consequences. Social learning is
defined by the theory that people learn by watching others. These instances take place when
there is an interruption or issue during the process of learning normal behaviors. A person, such

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as Aunt Josephine, establishes this observable conduct because of traumatic aspects that can
cause someone to adjust their lifestyle. It is understandable from the events that took place in
Aunt Josephines life that her specific behaviors are a learned outcome from the danger she
witnessed year previous. The negative occurrence that involved her husband being eaten alive
by carnivorous leeches allowed for the development of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The
disorder exhibited itself in symptoms such as Aunt Josephines avoidance of Lake Lachrymose
and being startled by most everything. She learned that if she responds to things by ignoring
them, she eliminates the chances of getting physically hurt. Also, she believes that if she
interacts with her household objects, she will suffer the consequence of being killed, like her
husband, and therefore displays the idea that her behavior is influenced by the consequences of
her actions.
Literature Review
The evidence supporting the relationship between the direct and indirect methods of
experiencing trauma and the development of mental disorders mounts with the increasing
research on the topic every year. It is clear through many studies that there is apparent
connections in both the direct and indirect effects contribute to the growth of Posttraumatic
Stress Disorder. Evidence in this paper will aim to show the susceptibility of PTSD through
discoveries in multiple studies that deal with witnessing the death of a loved one, experienced
traumatic events and developed comorbidity, level exposure, and coping mechanisms. The
studies that will be reviewed provide evidence that PTSD is a very plausible disorder when
exposed to different degrees of trauma.
The vulnerability factor of developing Posttraumatic Stress Disorder is evident through
findings in multiple studies that analyzed the growth of the disorder after witnessing the death of

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a loved one (Olaya et al., 2008). This study posited that many degrees of experienced
disturbance in a persons life, such as car accidents and sexual assault, caused them to eventually
develop PTSD However, witnessing the death of a loved one was one that seemed to be the
prevalent to the growth of the disorder. Overall, it appears as though the acquired symptoms can
be caused by various levels of trauma. Also, it was found that sex differences can influence the
development of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, depending on the type of traumatic event
experienced (Tolin et al., 2008). This study supported the idea that direct and indirect
occurrences influenced the development of PTSD (especially that in Aunt Josephine) by stating
that women were more likely to meet the Posttraumatic Stress Disorder criteria than men
although they were more likely to suffer from indirect secondhand experience compared to mens
direct firsthand events.
Indirect and direct events can cause the upset that is necessary for the development of
PTSD; they can also help cultivate comorbidity associated with PTSD criteria. Research has
discovered that the structure of distress following trauma could lead to the growth of Major
Depressive Disorder, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (Grant et al., 2008). A construct level
analysis was used to determine that the disorder listed above were highly associated with a
traumatic event. It also postulated through a symptom level analysis that re-experiencing,
avoidance, and hypervigilance factors were incorporated with the Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
construct. Also, research analyzed how the level of exposure and proximity to a traumatic event
influences the possibility of developing PTSD (May et al., 2015). Recently, the DSM-5 has
changed its criteria for what is considered direct and indirect trauma-inducing exposure. It
postulates that direct exposure involves experiencing a firsthand trauma or witnessing an event
as its happening to others. It posits indirect exposure as learning about violent death of someone

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you knew well, or through work-related media reports. The study analyzed if PTSD can really
develop through a secondhand event; through a systematic review they found that a person can in
fact acquire the disorder, but it is much more likely than someone who has experienced an event
firsthand.
In addition, coping styles can also affect the symptoms of PTSD whether they are indirect
or direct. It suggests that young adults who have experienced the loss of a loved one were most
correlated with the symptoms for Posttraumatic Stress disorder when they exhibited avoidant
emotional coping methods (Schnider et al. 2007). The study indicated that college students are
more likely to develop PTSD after the death of someone close to them. The research also
indicated that among problem-focused, active, and avoidant coping styles, those who used
problem-focused and active coping styles typically did not acquire Posttraumatic Stress Disorder,
meaning that those who tended to avoid their grief, whether indirect or direct later converted
those feelings into PTSD (Carson et al, 2000).
Application
It seems as though Aunt Josephine Anwhistles PTSD is due mainly to her direct
exposure of watching her husband be killed. Based on the behavioral model, t is understandable
from the events that took place in Aunt Josephines life that her specific behaviors, through
classical conditioning, are a learned outcome from the danger she witnessed year previous.
These studies included a young adult female population and therefore a applicable to Aunt
Josephine. Her PTSD is influenced by a throng of learned behaviors that were viewed as a way
for her to survive. Josephines symptoms are also due to her being easily startled and avoiding
situations connected to the traumatic event.
Conclusion

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This paper reviewed the case of Aunt Josephine Anwhistle from the film A Series of
Unfortunate Events. A detailed description of Josephines life and her symptoms of
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder were considered. The Behavioral Model was used to
conceptualize Aunt Josephines case. This document also reviewed relevant literature in order to
show that PTSD is a highly learned disorder with multiple influences to its development. This
concept was then applied specifically to the case of Josephines in order to explain the etiology
of her mental disorder.

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References
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Olaya, B., Alonso, J., Atwoli, L., Kessler, R. C., Vilagut, G., & Haro, J. M. (2015). Association
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stress and complicated grief symptom severity among college students reporting a
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