Ordinary People

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Dr. Berger Character Analysis

Conrad's psychiatrist. He is wildly different from Dr. Crawford or any of the other staff members from the hospital in which Conrad was kept for three months. Though off-putting in his appearance and mannerisms, Berger's simultaneously relaxed and confrontational approach help Conrad recognize the difficulty and benefits of healthy relationships.

Dr. Berger Quotes in Ordinary People

The Ordinary People quotes below are all either spoken by Dr. Berger or refer to Dr. Berger. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Books edition of Ordinary People published in 1982.
Chapter 5 Quotes

The worst, the first session has been gotten through. And the guy is not bad; at least he is loose. The exchange about the razor blades reminded him of something good about the hospital; nobody hid anything there. People kidded you about all kinds of stuff and it was all right; it even helped to stay the flood of shame and guilt. …So, how do you stay open, when nobody mentions anything, when everybody is careful not to mention it?

Related Characters: Conrad Jarrett, Dr. Berger
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Conrad has just finished his first meeting with his new psychiatrist, Dr. Berger. Berger is an interesting figure in the novel because his manner clashes with the closed off, reserved attitude of Conrad's family--Berger doesn't have such a severe personality. Instead, Berger thinks that it's important to be open with other people--he's "loose." Conrad clearly appreciates Dr. Berger's attitude, and finds it a refreshing alternative to his family and community. This emphasizes how honesty and directly addressing a problem--actually talking about razorblades and suicide instead of just alluding to them in euphemisms--is crucial for working through mental disorder.

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Chapter 13 Quotes

Berger laughs. "When's the last time you got really mad?"
He says, carefully, "When it comes, there's always too much of it. I don't know how to handle it."
"Sure, I know," Berger says. "It's a closet full of junk. You open the door and everything falls out."
"No," he says. "There's a guy in the closet. I don't even know him, that's the problem."
"Only way you're ever gonna get to know him," Berger says, "is to let him out now and then. …"
"Sometimes," he says, "when you let yourself feel, all you feel is lousy."
Berger nods. "Maybe you gotta feel lousy sometime, in order to feel better. A little advice, kiddo, about feeling. Don't think too much about it. And don't expect it always to tickle."

Related Characters: Conrad Jarrett (speaker), Dr. Berger (speaker)
Page Number: 100
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Conrad has another therapy session with Dr. Berger. Conrad admits that he doesn't know how to talk about his feelings with his parents. For instance, he hasn't told them about his decision to quit the swim team. Berger gives Conrad some advice: Conrad needs to do a better job of expressing his feelings, even to himself. Keeping his feelings bottled up inside (or "in the closet," as Berger says) is a recipe for more resentment and self-hatred down the line.

Berger is wise; he recognizes that Conrad's steady healing from depression isn't going to be easy (it's not going to "tickle"). Ad yet he emphasizes show important it is for Conrad to be honest with himself, and to communicate with other people--not just Berger himself, but his family and friends as well.

Chapter 27 Quotes

"Geez, if I could get through to you, kiddo, that depression is not sobbing and crying and giving vent, it is plain and simple reduction of feeling. Reduction, see? Of all feeling. People who keep stiff upper lips find that it's damn hard to smile."

Related Characters: Dr. Berger (speaker), Conrad Jarrett
Page Number: 225
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Dr. Berger offers one of the novel's key insights about sadness and depression. Most people have the impression that depression consists of being sad all the time, or experiencing strong negative emotion. in actuality, depression is usually a feeling of apathy, exhaustion, or nothingness--depressed people, not just Conrad, often say that they're incapable of feeling anything.

Berger's remarks illustrate a basic misunderstanding of how people get over their depression. Crying and yelling aren't signs of depression; they're demonstrations that the depressed person is feeling better; his body itself is "flushing out" the bad feelings. Berger's advice is especially important to Conrad because he's been raised in a sheltered, isolated environment in which expressing one's emotions isn't always encouraged.

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Dr. Berger Character Timeline in Ordinary People

The timeline below shows where the character Dr. Berger appears in Ordinary People. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
...a little uneasy. He reminds Conrad to "stick to the plan": that is, calling Dr. Berger, a psychologist in Evanston, to schedule a visit. Conrad insists that he has no time... (full context)
Chapter 4
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
After a little while Cal decides to look up Dr. Tyrone Berger's phone number, all the while reviewing his responsibilities as a father and Conrad's duties as... (full context)
Chapter 5
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
Conrad visits Dr. Berger's office for the first time. Anxiety begins to overtake him when he steps inside the... (full context)
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
Dr. Berger and Conrad settle into their first session. When Berger asks what he'd like to accomplish... (full context)
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
After the appointment, Conrad reflects on his time with Berger. In retrospect, he appreciates the doctor's casualness. It's a kind of openness that reminds him... (full context)
Chapter 7
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
...felt that she wasn't getting anything helpful out of it. Conrad feels obligated to mention Berger too – but only to explain that seeing him was his dad's idea, and that... (full context)
Chapter 8
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
...he was in the past. Cal slowly opens up about his son's visits with Dr. Berger, which quickly proves to be a mistake – Beth hears the conversation from across the... (full context)
Chapter 9
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
Conrad discusses the dream with Dr. Berger at his next therapy session. In his typically casual way Berger downplays the dream at... (full context)
Chapter 12
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
Later, Conrad confesses to Dr. Berger that he hasn't told his parents about his decision to quit swimming. He offers several... (full context)
Chapter 13
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
...doesn't make sense to him. Casting for an answer, he asks if his sessions with Berger are helping. Conrad warns Cal not to blame Berger, and the conversation ends abruptly. (full context)
Chapter 14
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Conrad discusses the argument with his mother in the day's session with Berger. He is reluctant to tell the doctor how the outburst makes him feel, but Berger... (full context)
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
Berger is taken aback by Conrad's passionate refusal. As the mood settles, Berger tries to help... (full context)
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
...his suicide was an act of self-loathing, but when pressed he can't explain his motivation. Berger gives him a piece of advice at the very end of their session: "The body... (full context)
Chapter 16
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
Conrad fills Berger in on his encounter with the woman at the library. In spite of Berger's gentle... (full context)
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Berger casually advises Conrad to begin a relationship with Jeannine. Conrad is wary of dating, but... (full context)
Chapter 17
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Cal notices his son's unusually good mood. Curious, he asks about Berger and what he and Conrad discuss in their sessions. Cal throws out the idea of... (full context)
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
Cal meets with Berger. Like his son, Cal is struck by Berger's crazed appearance and the "sharp, stinging blue"... (full context)
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
Revealing so much about himself so quickly makes Cal feel self-conscious, but Berger's easy manner encourages him to continue. Jokingly, Cal remembers Conrad's habit of calling the mental... (full context)
Chapter 20
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
...date with her. He is in a good mood; he's made so much progress with Berger that they have reduced their meetings to once a week. He gets so caught up... (full context)
Chapter 21
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
...intense memories bring Cal to the verge of tears (a common occurrence since visiting Dr. Berger). He remembered Beth's assertion that Bacon was only interested in Cal as long as Call... (full context)
Chapter 26
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
...glances at the horoscopes, wondering how to describe his own life and quickly remembering that Berger describes it as "becoming." But an article further down the page thoroughly shocks him: it... (full context)
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
...to weep. Soon the sun begins to rise, and Conrad gets up to search for Berger's number in the phone book. He asks to meet with the doctor right away. (full context)
Chapter 27
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
By the time Conrad reaches Berger's office, the doctor is there waiting for him. Almost immediately Conrad begins sobbing. He begins... (full context)
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
Berger presses Conrad to tell him why he needs help. The truth springs up from deep... (full context)
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
Berger takes Conrad to breakfast. Conrad is exhausted, but Berger gently asks if Karen's suicide is... (full context)
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Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
Berger's advice finally makes sense to Conrad. As he cries once more, he finishes showering. He... (full context)
Chapter 30
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
...in touch not only with himself, but with her as well. As they tenderly embrace, Berger's advice comes to mind: The body doesn't lie. (full context)
Epilogue
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Conrad pays a visit to Berger at his house. He thanks him for his help, but of course their exchange is... (full context)