The film Ordinary People directed by Robert Redford centers around the Jarrett family following two major crises. First, the oldest son Buck dies after a fatal sailing accident. Second, the youngest son Conrad, a survivor of the same sailing accident, attempts suicide after feeling responsible for the untimely death of his older brother. Conrad begins seeing the psychiatrist Dr. Berger after a four-month stay in a psychiatric hospital. Dr. Berger helps Conrad learn how to deal with his emotions and eventually stop blaming himself for the death of his brother. When Conrad goes to his first meeting with Dr. Berger, Conrad says his overall goal for counseling is to gain control. Dr. Berger responds: “I am not big on control. But it is your money.” A professional is an individual who has training for a career and acts in an appropriate way in the workplace.
This response is not professional because it is condescending towards Conrad and his thoughts. Additionally, Dr. Berger asks Conrad specific medical questions: “How long have you been out of the hospital? How long were you in the hospital?” Professional behavior includes preparation for meetings. Practitioners are expected to be prepared in order to be active with their clients and share ideas and opinions. Dr. Berger should have researched Conrad’s medical history prior to their first meeting. Additionally, Conrad is upset after the string of background questions. He aggressively asks: “What do you know about me?” Additionally, Dr. Berger bluntly asks about how Conrad attempted suicide after looking at his medical file: “I does not say what your method was.” Warmth is one of the core interpersonal qualities necessary for the development of a trusting client-practitioner relationship. Practitioner warmth encourages clients to openly engage in sessions.
Practitioners who are kind and accepting are perceived as warm while practitioners who are detached and rejecting are perceived as cold. Expressions of warmth include verbally showing interest, acceptance, and concern for the client, nonverbally smiling or using the appropriate facial expression, paying full attention to the client, and tone of voice. Dr. Berger did not express warmth when he asked about Conrad’s suicide attempt in a brusque and emotionless manner. Additionally, Dr. Berger showers Conrad with endless close-ended questions in this first meeting. He asks: “Feeling depressed? On stage? Friends? Teachers? Everybody glad to see you home?” Close-ended questions are questions that can be answered using one word. Close-ended questions are appropriate when the practitioner is seeking specific information. However, many of the questions Dr. Berger asks are broad topics that need to be discussed more fully.
For example, Dr. Berger could have asked: “Tell me more about your friends.” Additionally, clients feel interrogated when they are asked too many questions in a row. Practitioners are supposed to understand and work with their clients. Instead of listening and empathizing with Conrad, Dr. Berger asks too many questions which implies judgement and makes Conrad act defensive. Conrad and Dr. Berger have an emergency meeting when a friend of Conrad commits suicide. In the heat of the moment, Dr. Berger calls Conrad a friend. This is an example of a boundary violation. Relationship boundaries are limits set in relationships. In order to maintain boundaries, practitioners must explain the rules of their professional relationship to the client.
These rules protect confidentiality and ensure that the needs of the clients are prioritized over those of the practitioner. Boundary violations have the capability to exploit, harm or violate clients. Dr. Berger crossed the client-practitioner with his friendship. However, boundary crossings are acceptable if it benefits the client. In the given situation, Dr. Berger helped comfort and support Conrad in his time of need by extending his friendship which is acceptable.