Study Guide

Dr. Berger in Ordinary People

By Judith Guest

Dr. Berger

Good Berger

TV and film have a huge pantheon of fictional psychiatrists. Tony Soprano had Dr. Melfi. Will Hunting had Dr. Maguire. Even SpongeBob visited this snooty little yellow fish to wring out all his feelings.

Dr. Tyrone C. Berger, an authoritative name if there ever was one, has the job of twisting the feels out of Conrad Jarrett, and he has his work cut out for him. You've heard you can't get blood from a stone. Well, it's nearly impossible to get tears from a kid who has a stone for a mother.

Beth's perfectionism has caused Conrad to shut himself down. Conrad wants to control everything, even his feelings. Dr. Berger tells him, "Feeling is not selective" (27.60), and "Maybe you gotta feel lousy sometimes, in order to feel a little better" (12.72). It's advice you've heard in every therapy scene ever, but in the 1970s, it felt fresh. And it's something Conrad definitely needs to hear.

Although Berger and Conrad declare themselves friends, we don't know anything else about Berger's personal life. The friend thing is more like a way for them to cement their good relationship, and for Conrad to show Berger how much he appreciates him. It isn't like they're crossing a doctor-patient line. Don't expect to see them starting a bowling league any time soon. Dr. Berger's just the guy Conrad needs at this time in his life, and like the good doctor he is, Berger knows it.

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