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 N√©stor 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.