The Argentinian love affair with psychoanalysis

The Wall Street Journal has a revealing article on why Argentina has the largest concentration of psychologists anywhere in the world and why it has a long-standing cultural fascination with psychoanalysis.

Psychoanalysis is a set of psychological theories and form of psychotherapy based strongly on the ideas of Freud. Buenos Aires is one of the world centres of psychoanalysis and has been since the earliest days of Freud’s work.

Unlike in many countries, where psychoanalysis was, and remains, a psychology for the rich, the practice took off in Argentina during the 1960s to the point where is is common for everyday folk to see an analyst. The WSJ cites a recent survey suggesting that 32% of Argentinians have seen an analyst at some point in their lives.

Argentina is also known as a centre of Lacanian psychoanalysis, based on the work of French psychiatrist Jacques Lacan. If you can, imagine a French post-modern take on Freud. If you can’t, reading Lacan is unlikely to help because it’s an almost impenetrable reinterpretation of what was already a set of theories that was fairly loopy in places.

But psychoanalysis is more than a psychological practice in Argentina, it is a central part of the culture, and the WSJ article explores some of its social popularity.

Psychoanalysis is embedded in the geography of Buenos Aires, where many analysts are clustered in a neighborhood popularly known as Villa Freud.

Freudian thought colors political reporting. The newsweekly Noticias recently turned to a panel of 10 psychoanalysts to explain the behavior of ex-president Néstor Kirchner, who has been stealing the policymaking spotlight from his wife, Cristina, the current president.

One magazine query: What to make of Mrs. Kirchner’s statement that her husband sleeps in the fetal position?

Meanwhile, on TV, a drama series called “Tratame Bien,” (“Treat Me Well”), focuses on the travails of Jos√© and Sofia, a husband and wife, each of whom has an analyst. Facing midlife crises, the two make a momentous decision: retaining a third analyst they can see together for couples’ therapy.

Interestingly, lots of Latin America is still heavily influenced by psychoanalysis, probably due to the historical influences of the USA to the North and Argentina in the West.

However, since working here, I’ve realised that doing evidence-based empirical psychology and psychiatry is a lot more difficult in countries with limited resources.

Access to the evidence is expensive (thanks to the use of restrictive copyright and excessive pricing by scientific journals) and research is difficult when there is little free time and few funding opportunities.

However, this is much less of an issue with psychoanalysis because the major source of information is your own experience, insights and work with the patient, plus discussions in a limited set of journals.

In other words, it’s much easier to fulfil the requirements of what is expected of a well-informed competent psychoanalytic practitioner than what is expected of a scientifically-oriented evidence-based psychologist.

This, I suspect, is one of the many reasons that psychoanalysis remains popular in Latin America.

Link to WSJ piece on psychoanalysis in Argentina (via PCFTI).
Link to entry for Argentina in the International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis.

6 Comments

  1. Avicenna
    Posted November 17, 2009 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

    That explains Zizek’s obsession with Argentina. Still doesn’t explain how he was able to score such a hot wife.

  2. Enterhase
    Posted November 17, 2009 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

    That’s an interesting take on psychoanalysis in Argentina.
    I’m personally not too interested in studying Freud or Lacan, and that’s one of the reasons why I enrolled in med school instead of choosing a psychology program.

  3. ScottL
    Posted November 18, 2009 at 5:57 am | Permalink

    I love these ‘other cultures are so crazy unlike ours’ articles. It’s not as though the US isn’t dominated by the most ridiculous sort of pop psychology, which one could explain in the same way as the WSJ article — which is to say superficially — as a result of a culture that hates even brief encounters with criticality.
    On the few occasions it comes up, I’ve appreciated this site’s relatively measured take on psychoanalysis, relative, that is, to it being casually dismissed as pre-scientific hoo-ha. I thought the critique of Darian Leader’s CBT article ages ago was good for what it was. So not to seem too ungrateful, but it’s a bit unfair to sum up psychoanalysis as ‘fairly loopy’ in places. Not that it isn’t, but the Lacanian project was precisely intended to address the loopy-ness. I’m as frustrated as anyone at the hegemony of Lacanian psychoanalysis in humanities departments, but as a clinical practice, its focus on the particularity of each case and ignorance of what’s uncritically called science really does work wonders. It does aim to do a very different thing than traditional psychology, though.
    The Argentinian example simply demonstrates that the problem of massification is not a necessary problem, merely a political one. And I share the sense that, in the English speaking world, the political concerns that dictate cost-efficient but superficial treatments like CBT and psychiatry are not likely to disappear. But maybe policy makers should have a good look at the Argentinian example and see if there isn’t any room in that big old public purse for us Lacanian cranks and our (in my case future) patients. I can only imagine it would be a far more interesting world to live in.

  4. rita
    Posted November 19, 2009 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    “really does work wonders”. Could we have some statistics on these “wonders”, please? Isn’t “pre-scientific hoo-ha” a pretty fair description of psychoanalysis?
    As for digging into the public purse for psychoanalytic (non-)treatments of any stripe – it’s bad enough warding off homeopathy, astrology and all the other woo out there without the unfortunate public having to support more non- evidence-based gubbins!

  5. Enterhase
    Posted November 21, 2009 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    To speak of a “pre-scientific hoo-ha” is to imply that there is a strict hierarchical and temporal relationship between science and other ways of analysis. If that were the case, we should regard philosophers with the utmost contempt since they are “still trying” to explain the fundamentals of reality while we “already know” that E=mc^2.

  6. Emil Kraepelin
    Posted November 12, 2010 at 2:34 am | Permalink

    me llama la atención la reflexión del psicoanalista lacaniano. Para empezar, debería de leer a Dylan Evans y a su “From Lacan to Darwin” en el que describe su percepción del psicoanálisis lacaniano aplicado en la clínica (y además en Claire House, parte del St George’s Hospital Medical School, mi alma mater). La ininteligibilidad y la arbitrariedad de Lacan quedan cifradas en la frase afortunada de Raymond Tallis, “¿Danza del significante?: El Lacán-can”. De esta manera se satiriza los excesos del Charla(t)an ¿O debería decir Charlacan?


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