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The Fear of Doing Nothing

This is not, as the title may suggest, a book by an author who worries about procrastination or being bored. It’s about Valery Hazanov‘s days as an intern, learning the ropes of being a psychologist. The initial theory of psychology is a pile of crap, he says: the tests that ‘tell’ psychologists where their patients are at, what the structure of the human eye is, etc. There is so little about what really makes people tick. This is what you pick up when you do an internship.

It’s not for the faint-hearted. In one part of his training, Hazanov sees 14 patients a day, working from 9am till 8.45pm – and up to 40 patients a week! He has to try and be in each client’s shoes and give them his full, authentic attention, though some cannot articulate their dilemmas clearly, and many never seem to change.

One client, whom he sees for a year, gets a whole chapter to herself. She was raped for four years by her grandfather after being passed from one relative to another. How to process all that trauma? Ms Johnson can barely make it out of her flat: she can’t even allow the light inside it, keeping the curtains drawn. Hazanov focuses on achieving tiny victories with her: trying to get her to take a bus to therapy instead of an expensive cab, but she’s petrified of strangers.

In another chapter, he works in a long-established group of middle-aged to elderly men. He’s struck by how shallow and comfortable their interactions are, but has to first gain their respect before he can confront them on this. By the time he leaves, they are delving into issues we all share but seldom face.

Why bother? Why bother to work with dysfunctional people at all? Can any lasting changes be made? I gave up on psychology after doing three degrees in it, thinking ‘this is an indulgence for the rich: what about the millions of poor people who can’t afford therapy?’ (Also, nobody ever comes to talk to me about their problems). Hazanov asks himself the same question, hence the title of this book. But his attention to what people are (or aren’t) saying, his insights about and care for his clients, his refusal to give up, made me fall in love with psychology all over again. Or, at least, with reading books about it …