Originally, Booth, the macho-FBI agent and former sniper, goes to mandatory therapy after shooting a mechanical clown on top of an ice-cream truck. Booth has a phobia of clowns (which to be honest, I also share), but it’s really a response to the death of serial killer during a chase. Booth feels conflicted and guilty about the death although he has trouble talking about it. He gets sent to Stephen Fry (who is amazing as a therapist and later chef Gordon Gordon Wyatt).
At first, Booth avoids calling it therapy and argues with others when they call it that—instead he holds close to the idea that it’s just an evaluation. It would be easy to consider this a dismissal of therapy but instead, it feels realistic especially for someone going to therapy without receiving a mental illness diagnosis.
Eventually, Booth gets more comfortable with it and even becomes very close friends with his new therapist who works with both Booth and Bones to help them with their partnership (much of the friendship developing after the majority of their therapy is finished).
He definitely goes through a process, especially when he transitions to Dr. Sweets, who is 22 years old at the time he is introduced on Bones. He mocks and intimidates him: he is uncomfortable with certain exercises and practices but he always goes and trusts him to consult on cases.
Bones herself is also disdainful of therapy, partly because she thinks it is an anathema to anthropology. She doesn’t believe psychology is a science and she constantly discounts it even in therapy but she too continues to go and also becomes very close with Dr. Sweets as a friend after they stop therapy. She even lets him write a book on hers and Booth’s partnership.
In fact, I love the good-natured bickering over anthropology and psychology that is a common thread throughout the show. One of my favorite episodes is an investigation into a murder in a suburb. Both Sweets and Bones address the suburb in terms of their own discipline’s analysis of the suburbs and at one-point Sweets tells Bones: “Wrong -ology. Get your grubby anthro hands off my psych.”
And later when Bones and Booth interview a homeowner in the suburb, Bones realizes “Oh no, she’s a therapist, she sounds like a therapist.” The therapist responds, “She’s an anthropologist, isn’t she? She talks like an anthropologist.”
I admit that I may be biased because I am an anthropologist.
The way Booth and Bones also go in and out of therapy is realistic. People don’t go to therapy forever or the same amount over time. Sometimes you go to therapy frequently, especially in difficult periods and during others you may not go at all. This comes up with Booth has brain surgery and has trouble adjusting afterward—he needs more help from a trained therapist, in fact, two. I love that they bring Stephen Fry back to consult even though he’s now Chef Gordon Gordon Wyatt.
In general, I find Booth and Bones’ feelings and experiences with therapy realistic and natural. This is the kind of portrayal of therapy I can connect with and did before and after I started therapy myself. Depictions like this have also made it easier for me to convince friends and family that they can benefit from therapy without having a mental illness diagnosis. It’s not shameful but worrying about what others might think is natural.
Earlier TV and movie portrayals of therapy tended to focus on the uber-wealthy in cities like NYC or LA, which is nothing like most people’s experiences of therapy or the way they come to it. In those depictions, therapy is portrayed almost like a sport or a fun pastime for the bored wealthy. Or it’s a punchline.
Shows like Bones demonstrate a shift that has been occurring in movies and TV in how therapy is portrayed over the last few decades. I would like to continue to see various representations of therapy, including various practitioners, people attending therapy, and reasons for going to therapy. Therapy is a really important tool for many people to live better, more introspective, and healthy lives, in addition to being an important medical intervention for people with mental illnesses.