Contrad Jarrett beings his journey in Judith Guest's Ordinary People by making an appointment with his therapist. Although Conrad himself does not truly understand his reason for doing so, seeking Dr. Berger's help indicates the main character's sense of himself as a broken, damaged being.
There are two main reasons for Conrad's state of mind. First, he witnesses his brother Buck's death as a result of a boating accident. Second, he subsequently committed to a mental institution where he receives shock therapy. Rather than healing, Conrad experiences severe alienation from those close to him and even from himself after leaving the hospital.
The turning point in Conrad's work with Dr. Berger comes when a friend, Karen, commits suicide. Dr. Berger helps him to both acknowledge his underlying and repressed guilt and to understand that neither death was his responsibility.
A second turning point is the separation of Conrad's parents. Once he acknowledges his anger and disappointment, he is able to accept what has happened, along with the fact that his mother loves him as much as she is able.
Conrad develops psychologically by understanding that repressed emotions are often at the heart of negative actions. His emotional development leads him to acknowledge these negative emotions and ultimately to overcome them.