David is a successful, middle-aged psychiatrist working in Ottawa. He has a mixed practice, but he specializes in Cognitive Behavioral therapy, a goal-oriented therapeutic technique that aggressively targets specific anxieties to improve the day-to-day life of the patient. This is ironic because David has been less than pro-active about dealing with his own problems.
Despite the appearance of a well engineered life, David is trapped in a contentious divorce, socially isolated, he frequently drinks to excesses and is arguable depressed. The only real effort he has made to heal himself comes in the form of a book he is writing about one of his patients, Michael Dyer.
This book is a glowing portrait of Michael's heroic battle with anxiety, and represents a sincere attempt on David's part to understand the nature of fear, how one becomes paralyzed by it and how one might triumph over it. Unfortunately, he fails to tell Michael about the book, and this lie sets in motion a series of events that drives David deeper into despair.
Michael is a low level clerk at the National Senior's Council who has battled severe anxiety of one kind or another his entire life. He has been a patient of Dr. Storper's since he was 15, and has made real progress dealing with specific phobias using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques.
Because of his anxieties, he doesn't connect with many people.
He is 30, but his habit of wearing a hoodie and headphones, avoiding eye contact and generally eschewing responsibility makes him seem much younger. His relationship with Dr. Storper is the longest lasting and most important in his life. That is why, when he discovers that David has been writing a book about him for two years, he feels so betrayed.
Sammy is a strong, independent career woman in her early forties. She is the editor assigned to David's book. Sammy likes to think of herself as sassy and fun, hence "Sammy" instead of Samantha, but she is actually quite controlling and judgmental. She comes across as bitchy, because she has a very low tolerance for weakness or hypocrisy and is often painfully blunt.
She finds honesty and strength very attractive in a man, which is why her relationship with David seems so improbable. Get a few drinks in her and she would tell you that she desperately wants romance, but that's a lie. In a very real sense, she is allergic to it. Her past is littered with failed relationships. That is why David is an excellent match for her. They both have boundary issues and desperately cling to their independence, but at the same time they crave companionship. And they are great in bed, and on the couch, and the floor, and the desk in David's office. It would seem that the moment of climax is the only time that either one of them comes close to letting go.
Claire is the twenty-something single mother who, as the result of a job placement initiative at an organization that helps unwed mothers, finds herself behind the reception desk in Dr. David Storper's office. It is a completely alien world to her. She finds much of the job baffling and Dr. Storper's rules of "ethical receptionist behavior" irrational. She feels great empathy for his patients, but is not allowed to speak to them.
She is smart, but she appears clumsy and stupid, because she is constantly struggling to please her boss.
In David's mind a major boundary is breached when she starts dating Michael. That turns out to be true, and as Claire begins to see in great detail the complex co-dependent relationship that David and Michael share, she softens towards her boss. In the end, she becomes his greatest ally.
Jasimina has been around the block a few times. She is the driving force behind Ledgerow Publishing, and was the first to see that David might have book in him. Wealthy, stylish and imposing, she has very little patience for inefficiency, and while she takes her work very seriously, one has the sense that she would rather kick off her three inch heels, take that bottle of Scotch out of her desk drawer, and have a booze-up with the girls.
When Sammy confesses that she had sex with David, Jasmina couldn't care less. The implication is that she has had a few inter-office flings herself and considers it a perk of the job. What she won't tolerate is sex threatening a deadline. She tolerates David, perhaps even likes him, and when he experiences a major setback she is truly, if briefly, sad. As she puts it, "I'm sorry David, and if I wasn't so busy I would be even sorrier."
Carlos is the pampered son of a wealthy Indian businessman, who works along side Michael in the communications department at the National Senior's council. He cultivates an air of confidence and efficiency, but in reality he is incredibly insecure. Michael has a natural talent as a copy writer, due perhaps to the fact that he possesses a deep understanding of human nature, resulting from years of therapy.
Carlos is good with Photoshop.
Carlos doesn't understand Michael's anxieties, but he uses them to maintain an upper hand in the work place. He is not a bad person, but fear resulting from a painful awareness of his own limitations, makes him do bad things.
Dr. Wasserman is David's 80-something mentor and therapist. Wasserman was a big deal in his day: a well respected psychiatrist, professor, and a pioneer in the field of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Now, his mind is somewhat shackled by old age. He is still highly opinionated, straight-shooting and aggressive in his therapeutic technique. Unfortunately, he is also scattered, forgetful and occasionally abusive. He has a great deal of trouble remembering David's name, even though he has been treating him for six and half years.
As a result of their long therapeutic relationship, he is quite familiar with David's tendency to rationalize destructive behaviour, his avoidance mechanisms and patterns of denial, and as a result is David's harshest critic.
Wasserman is still a force to be reckoned with, and can be very insightful, even though those insights are often directed at Donald, Duncan or Dashiell.