Published on July 29th, 2013 | by Becky Castle Miller
Fangirl Therapy: The Pros and Cons of Living with Your Shrink
FBI psychologist Dr. Lance Sweets is the punching bag for stereotypes and fears of psychology in the American television show Bones.
The other main characters, mostly hard scientists and non-scientists, look down on and devalue Sweets’ soft-science contributions.
“You’re a shrink. You guys make things up,” says a suspect to him in episode #6.8, “The Twisted Bones in the Melted Truck,” and this view is echoed by Sweets’ colleagues.
I think the writers’ goal with Sweets’ character is to teach the other characters and thereby the audience to value the field of psychology.
Over several seasons, the main characters go through a relational progression with Sweets that mirrors the path I see a lot of people taking with psychology (and professional counseling in general).
Notice their resistance to therapy
The FBI requires the show’s leads, Special Agent Seely Booth and forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan (the “Bones” in Bones), to see Dr. Sweets. Initially, therapy with him is supposed to help them work out stresses they are subjected to in their professional partnership. They resent the requirement and avoid sessions with him. Even when they do sit down with him, they resist his attempts to help them.
In episode #4.24, “The Critic in the Cabernet,” Sweets says to them in a session, “The point of the exercise is not to explain, but to respond. Okay? Children can do this.”
“Because it’s childish,” Bones retorts.
Not quite a mutually respectful client-therapist relationship, there.
Over time, as the partners find Sweets’ therapy helping them in spite of their resistance, they begin to notice their prejudices and reevaluate them. Noticing their mistrust of psychology (and the need for help) is the first step toward opening themselves to it.
Acknowledge the value of professional counseling skills
Over the next two years, the main characters eventually come to a grudging respect of Sweets’ skills both as a therapist and as a criminal profiler. The skeptical Bones even comes around to asking Sweets to help her learn to analyze and understand people better.
Booth especially admires Sweets’ discernment of lies, which is a skill Booth also values in himself. In episode #4.15, “The Princess and the Pear,” another agent says to Sweets, “Booth was right—you’re like a portable polygraph.”
At the end of episode #5.6, “The Tough Man in the Tender Chicken,” Booth and Bones both validate to each other Sweets’ ability to give good advice.
Proactively reach out for help
After the required therapy, Bones and Booth continue to turn to Sweets for advice and counsel. So do many of the other characters. Though their methods of seeking help annoy Sweets (showing up unannounced in his office rather than making an appointment), I think he ultimately likes the fact that they value his input.
One of my favorite scenes happens in “The X in the File,” #5.11.
Hodgins: What do I do?
Sweets: First you need to figure out what you want.
Hodgins: I want to not be filled with anger and pain and resentment. I don’t want to be jealous.
Sweets: I don’t think you’re jealous. I think that you’re grieving what you’ve lost.
Hodgins: Grieving. As in grief?
Hodgins: The only thing that cures grief is time. Unless you’re recommending a lot of alcohol.
Sweets: I can’t really recommend alcohol. … I recommend time.
Hodgins: May I just sit here for a minute?
And he sits there on Sweets’ couch, in friendly silence, vulnerable and trusting.
Move in together
I think we need to draw the line before this step.
In season 8, Booth and Bones are living together along with their baby, Christine, and they invite Sweets to move in with them temporarily. It goes well for them, but I can’t see any way this would work out well for the rest of us.
The pros for Booth and Bones of living with their shrink are an amiable housemate (“Sweets is the only person Booth, Christine, and I like the same amount,” Bones says), free babysitting, and access to his DVD collection.
And his presence has a further positive effect on Bones’s view of psychology:
Sweets: You’ve been reading my psychology books again.
Bones: You leave them in the bathroom. They’re good reading in the tub.
The cons of that sort of personal relationship with your psychologist would be multiple. You’d have to deal with questions like, When are you in active therapy and when are you not? When is advice friendly and when is it clinical? Not to mention that in a 50-minute session, a client can choose what to share, while living together would open every moment of the day to analysis.
I can’t really recommend living with your shrink. Even if he is dealing with the loss of his apartment after a breakup.
But I can recommend the other steps.
In episode #8.16, “The Friend In Need,” a mother says to Sweets, “We don’t need that kind of help. We’re not psychology people—we’re friends and family people.”
Sweets gently leads her to the starting line of noticing her resistance to therapy by affirming her value as well as that of his own work: “Your daughter needs professional help. And she needs you.”
Fangirl Therapy title image created from a photo by Marcelo Brito Filho on Stock.Xchng. Picture of Bones cast from a Fox promotional image.