Plenty to Brood about, and No Taboos on Doing So ; Chic and Affordable, Psychoanalysis Is an Obsession in Argentina

By Romero, Simon | International Herald Tribune, August 20, 2012 | Go to article overview

Plenty to Brood about, and No Taboos on Doing So ; Chic and Affordable, Psychoanalysis Is an Obsession in Argentina


Romero, Simon, International Herald Tribune


Even as Argentines grapple with high inflation and an economic slowdown, many seem to know precisely what they want (at least in one area of their lives): psychoanalysis, and plenty of it.

The cafe, just north of a leafy district affectionately nicknamed Villa Freud, was almost empty. Roberto Alvarez sipped his espresso, furrowed his brow and began ticking off the names of psychologists he had seen over the past decade. He stopped counting only when he noticed that he was running short of fingers.

"Let me tell you something about us Argentines," Mr. Alvarez, a 51-year-old construction worker, said after a tangent on Jacques Lacan, the famous French psychoanalyst who sometimes conducted sessions with patients in taxicabs. "When it comes to choosing a psychologist, we are like women searching for the perfect perfume. We try a bit of this and a bit of that before eventually arriving at the right fit."

Indeed, Argentines often manage a smile upon hearing that psychoanalysis has been on the wane in the United States and other countries, rivaled by treatments that offer shorter-term and often cheaper results than years invested in sessions of soul-searching. Even as Argentines grapple with high inflation and an economic slowdown, many seem to know precisely what they want (at least in one area of their lives): psychoanalysis, and plenty of it.

The number of practicing psychologists in Argentina has been rising, to 196 per 100,000 people last year, according to a study by Modesto Alonso, a psychologist and researcher, from 145 per 100,000 people in 2008. That compares with about 27 psychologists per 100,000 people in the United States, according to the American Psychological Association.

Those numbers make Argentina -- a country still brooding over its economic decline from a century ago -- a world leader, at least when it comes to people's broad willingness to bare their souls.

"There is no taboo here about saying that you see a professional two or three times a week," said Tiziana Fenochietto, 29, a psychiatrist doing her residency at the Torcuato de Alvear Hospital for Psychiatric Emergencies, a public institution. "On the contrary," said Ms. Fenochietto, who has been in therapy herself for the past eight years, "it is chic."

One need not wander far in Buenos Aires to get a grip on the resilient obsession with neuroses of various stripes. The name Villa Freud is a nod not only to the Austrian founding father of psychoanalysis, but also to the number of psychologists who ply their trade in the buildings along the elegant streets around Plaza Guemes, in northern Buenos Aires.

A short cab ride away, in the theater district along Avenida Corrientes, lines form each night where the local adaptations of two hit plays have opened side by side: "Freud's Last Session," an imagined debate between Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis, and "Toc Toc," about obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Slip into many bookstores, and tomes abound written by Argentines about the psychological ills that plague people, and their cures. Malele Penchansky's "Universal History of Hysteria" and Alejandro Dagfal's "Between Paris and Buenos Aires: The Invention of the Psychologist" are among the offerings. A new prizewinning Argentine comic book, "Repairer of Dreams," even blends psychoanalysis into the tale of a dystopian city called Polenia.

Psychoanalysis is not just for Argentina's moneyed classes, with some psychoanalysts in the state medical system offering patients free sessions. And while some private health plans do not pay for psychoanalysis, insurance programs for some unionized workers cover dozens of therapy sessions a year.

"We say no to charity and yes to equal opportunity," said Adriana Abeles, president and founder of the Fields of Psychoanalysis Foundation, which carries out research, trains students of psychoanalysis and provides therapy. When patients cannot afford to pay, they can volunteer in exchange for their sessions, doing jobs like repairing furniture, cooking or painting walls. …

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