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Ordinary People: Treatment Plan

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The Jarrett family from the movie Ordinary People have a variety of issues. Complicating matters is the complex, tangled nature of these issues. To combat these issues we need a clear plan. In the absence of a clear plan there would be a great deal of floundering about. Floundering which would likely end in opening hurts we can not resolve. Therefore let us be clear about what we are setting out to accomplish.

Step 1 - Access Causes

First we must look for the root causes of the turmoil in the Jarrett family. The initial crisis was caused by the death of the Jarrett family's older son Buck Jarrett. His death in a sailing accident has left each of the surviving members of the family with their own issues. In response to this initial crisis, the younger son Conrad attempted suicide. After a period of time in a hospital Conrad has come back to his family. Though the course of the movie we see several issue arise. By the movie's end some issues have been resolve while others have surfaced. So where are we at the movie's end? Where are the family members and what treatment plan can we put in place to help them mend their family?

The reactions from Calvin, Beth and Conrad to these two critical events are very different. Younger son Conrad blamed himself for his brother's death and felt guilty for surviving the accident. Beth could not deal with the death of her eldest son and consistently ignored her problems and those of the family to present an ideal front to their social circle. Calvin realized something is wrong and has begun to work to resolve family issues.

In order to move forward from this point, we must now look deeper into the problems between the family members and what may be causing them. Up to this point Calvin and Conrad have made significant progress on their personal issues and their relationship. Their relationship with Beth is now better understood but is much worse. That is, the facade is gone but nothing is yet improved.

Conrad has with the help of Dr. Berger made a great deal of improvement in his personal life. He has opened up in his communication with his parents which has resulted in a better relationship with his father but has revealed a poor relationship with his mother. He seems to have at least stabilized in relationship to his personal problem and his relationship with his father. The big question for him is where he stands with his mother.

Calvin seems like a well-intentioned individual who is simply unequipped to deal with the problems which have arisen. It would be easy to find little fault with him other than being a bit naпve. However, the inability to deal with the problems likely stems from an incorrect view of the world which he lives in. He has previously given little thought to the possibility that an affluent life is not all one needs to deal with life's trials. His tendency to not think about life's emotionally difficult times is likely the reason he is just now beginning to understand his wife does not truly communicate with him. He did not critically assess the relationship with his wife before their crisis events. He allows as much when he says, "We would have been alright if there hadn't been any mess." Now Calvin finds he does not really know where their marriage stands. He is beginning to understand this underlying cause and begins dealing with it which is commendable though he devalues his wife in the process. The main problem for him is a lack of communication or a genuine relationship with his wife. While he wants to work through issues, she wants to ignore them. When confronted with this impasse they appear to have folded.

Beth is the easiest one to pick on but not necessarily as problematic as one might initially think. She clearly has difficulty communicating and admits she has difficulty showing affection. On the Slippery Slope of Conflict, Beth is definitely on the escape side.1 She has chosen denial as her response to both of the major events. We see escape again in her reaction to Calvin's confrontation when she leaves for Houston. She is very interested in keeping up appearances and looking good in public. Public image is an idol for her. Beth goes so far as to discourage the idea of Conrad going to therapy in the name of returning to "normal."


To begin we must establish goals with the individuals involved. Our overall goal is to restore the marriage and Conrad's relationship with both parents. As the family has discovered there is not much substance to their relationships, consequently restoration will not be enough. We must also develop skills to allows them to improve their relationships in healthy ways.


The first focus will be on Calvin and Beth's marriage. They have not been communicating well for a long time. Calvin has now realized Beth is not quite who he thought she was. Beth has chosen to leave when she was confronted. In many ways their reintegration would be more like an initial integration. There root causes which we would like to address are: they do not really know each other, they do not know how to value each other, and they do not communicate well.

They do not value each other.


Value is a macro problem of hope. As noted earlier it would be easy to cite Beth as the main problem here but Calvin is just or nearly as culpable. For instance Calvin simply states as a fact that she "is not strong, and I don't know if you are really giving" then asks her if she loves him, not exactly a picture of affirmation from him. Calvin goes on to say, "maybe you can't love anyone." It would be easy for one to fault Beth for leaving and she should not have left. But more than make a choice to leave, Beth was really just listen to what Calvin told her to do in not so many words.

On the other side, in her mind Beth thinks she is not a bad person and just reacts differently than others. When confronted on the golf course about hating Conrad, she replies with incredulity that of course she does not hate him and makes excuses about not being able to love on demand. Here she is fooling herself about the nature of love.


First we must focus on the ideal. As Worthington explains from his previous book Marriage Conflicts, "Partners can't simply will themselves to love each other and expect the emotions associated with love to be reborn. But they can will to value and not to devalue each other, which are two essential ways to show love.... People choose to love



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