Ordinary People Essay

Pages: 15 (4439 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 4  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: Family and Marriage

Ordinary People Intervention

Family Dynamics in "Ordinary People"

Ordinary People is the story of a family living in the aftermath of the tragic death of one of their sons, Buck. The death was the result of a boating accident. Soon after, Conrad, Buck brother tried to commit suicide. After a four-month hospitalization, Conrad returns to school. The family is in an upper middle class neighborhood in suburban Chicago. Calvin and Beth Jarrett the parents of Buck and Conrad. The Jarretts are trying to appear to be getting on with their lives, but inside of the home are not all right. Conrad started up his therapy with Dr. Berger outside of the hospital. He is trying to uncover the Jarrett's collective unhappiness. This leads to an examination of the overall family dynamic and the individual relationships.

Genogram of the Jarrett Family

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A genogram is an effective means of representing relationships and family history that can help in the diagnosis and treatment of familial conditions. The following represents the Genogram of the Jarrett Family, as depicted in the film "Ordinary People." The symbols used in the genogram are derived from Margaret Phaneuf's "The genogram, a means of enriching the interview: creation." The following genogram expresses the familial relationships in the Jarrett family, at least as they can be ascertained by watching the movie. The relationship between Beth and Buck is considered to be intensely close and the relationship between Beth and Conrad is strained. It is difficult to characterize the relationship between Beth and Calvin, as they are married at the beginning of the movie, but separated in the end.

Beth Calvin


Buck Conrad


Key to Symbols used in Genogram


____ __ ____ __ Distant Relationship

____ Intensely Close Relationship


Systematic Issues/Problems/Dynamics

Essay on Ordinary People Assignment

Family systems theory takes into account the complex systems that exist within the family structure. Family systems plays a key role in the development of the individuals within the unit. Proper assessment of the family dynamics is the key to successful intervention strategies. The assessment helps to identify systems and problems that are at play in the family system. The family systems approach uses the genogram to allow for engagement and participation of family members. The technique allows the worker to examine the relationships, family boundaries, and the variety and quality of connections to outside resources.

The family systems approach provides insight into who the family is, roles within the family and who performs them, family rules, communication patterns, relationship systems, major family events, the family network, and how the family fits into larger society (Missouri Department of Social Services, 2007). For the Jarrett family the assessment is as follows.

The Jarrett family has four primary members. Beth is the mother. Calvin is the father. They have two sons, Buck and Conrad. Buck was killed in a boating accident while boating with his brother Conrad. Since the death of Buck, it was been revealed that Beth and Buck had an intense relationship. The relationship between Beth and Conrad is strained and tenuous. All family relationships were strained by the death of Buck. Conrad and Calvin have become distant with one another.

The behavior that brought the family to the attention of service providers surrounded the death of Buck. After Buck's death, Calvin blamed himself and tried to commit suicide. He was hospitalized for four-month. This event brought to the surface a myriad of family problems, including the strained relationship between Calvin and his mother Beth. Communication patterns are a central issue in this relationship. Calvin believes that the way to heal the past is to talk about it. Beth wants to move away from the past and refuses to talk about it in an attempt to escape from the problems. Conrad learns to talk about his emotions and feeling through therapy. This helps to heal the relationship between Calvin and Conrad, as they are able to talk about their feelings.

Conrad does not appreciate his father, but Calvin never fails to indulge his son. Beth appears to be somewhat jealous of Calvin's attention directed toward Conrad. Beth spends most of her time playing golf and working around the home. She is troubled deeply, but refuses to outwardly dwell on the past. Beth always preferred Buck to Conrad for an unknown reason. This affects her difficulty in relating to Conrad. She never really connects with him, as she avoids communicating with him on any level.

The family has traditional role. Calvin works outside of the home. Beth spends her time caring for the home and playing golf. Conrad is involved in after school activities, such as swimming and other typical academic activities. Family rules are difficult to discern. They have few formal rules and do not seem to communicate effectively.

The family has few friends outside of the family. They spend much effort trying to appear normal outside of the home and in the community. Ties within the community are not particularly strong. They try to give the appearance of being the perfect family on the outside. Buck's death was the most significant event in the past several years and the Jarretts tried to give the appearance that life simply went on. This event culminated in much tension within the home that was outwardly expressed through Conrad's suicide attempt. The family does not function well as a system, as they are disconnected communication wise. Power is not distributed evenly, with Beth making most of the decisions. Calvin does not put up much resistance when it comes to Beth's decisions. He often defaults to her. Conrad has little input into family decisions. Beth berates him for beginning therapy and putting the family in a bad light.

Assessment Strategy

The most important part of the intervention plan involves the development of an appropriate assessment strategy. Bateson's Cybernetics model is the most widely used of the strategies (Niolon, 1999). Erikson's approach was that the unconscious was full of wisdom, one only needed to give them the keys to accessing it. The Milan Model was heavily influenced by the work of Bateson and other analysts of the time. Each of these theorists provided a strategy for assessment, treatment planning and treatment of family systems.

The Mental Research Institute (MRI) approach was based on the assumption that families make common sense, but their attempts to resolve problems are misguided. They develop a positive feedback loop and things get even worse. The solution to the problem using this approach involves identification of the feedback loop, finding the rules that govern it, and changing the loops and rules (Niolon, 1999).

Other models, such as that of Haley and Madanes were concerned with function that was served by a particular symptom. They would study the system for months before determining the interactions and the plan of action. They were primarily concerned with power struggles between members and the costs and benefits of keeping up the struggle (Niolon, 1999). The length of time that this assessment technique takes would not be appropriate, as the family is in immediate crisis and needs intervention to begin in a short time.

In addition, Haley and Madanes classify problems into four distinct categories that result from a desire to control and dominate, a desire to be loved, a desire to love and protect others, and a desire to repent and forgive (Niolon, 1999). In the case of the Jarretts, communication is the key problem. However, in the case of Conrad, the desire to love and protect others may be a key source of conflict. His guilt stems from his inability to protect others. He also may have sought repentance and forgiveness from his perceived transgressions. The Haley and Mandane's model is not a good fit for this family's problems.

Three primary models exist for the development of problems within families. The cybernetic approach allows for the creation of runaway positive feedback loops. Structurally flawed family hierarchies represent another source of problems. The functional model is where one member develops symptoms to control others (Niolon, 1999). In the case of the Jarretts, one could see all of these types of problem sources. Runaway positive feedback loops exist in the need for the family to maintain an appearance of normalcy and Beth's continual avoidance of the problem. The family has a structurally flawed hierarchy, as one of the brothers was favored over the other by the mother. Conrad developed symptoms to attempt to control others in his suicide attempt. These three primary sources of problems makes the Jarrett case a complicated matter.

One of the key strengths of the family is their independence, but this is also a key weakness as they all try to solve their problems on their own. This is true, except for the case of Calvin, who tries to talk out his problems with other family members. Conrad learns to talk about his feelings through therapy. Conrad has informal supports through a network of friends and activities at school. It is assumed that Beth has support through her… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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