Archive for the ‘crazy old ladies’ Category

dancing with freud

October 11, 2007

When I was searching for apartments to rent in Buenos Aires last year, I noticed that a good number of the apartments for rent had a chair right next to the bed. The first word that came to my mind was psychiatrists. Are psychiatrists common in Buenos Aires? I dismissed this thought until I stumbled upon this old New York Times article published on May 29, 1998:

There are more psychologists in Argentina per capita than in any country in the world except Uruguay, Argentina’s small neighbor. New York and Buenos Aires are neck-and-neck for the distinction of being the city with the most psychotherapists, including psychologists and psychiatrists, over all.

”Argentines are passionate about understanding themselves and making their lives better and happier through self-knowledge,” said Lucia R. Martinto de Paschero, president of the Argentine Psychoanalytic Association.

Television and radio talk shows featuring psychologists fill the airwaves with daily psychobabble. Pagina 12, a leading Buenos Aires newspaper, devotes two pages of coverage to psychological matters every Thursday. A hot rock band in Argentina calls itself The Paranoid Rats, while another is known as The Crazy Old Ladies.

One neighborhood in Buenos Aires, a part of the Palermo district, has so many psychologists as residents that it has come to be known as Villa Freud. The neighborhood is graced by a popular restaurant that goes by the name Bar Sigi and serves a concoction of cognac and vanilla named after the father of psychoanalysis.

Argentines talk about going to their therapist as openly as they discuss going to the butcher, and expensive therapy is as much a part of middle-class life as a summer weekend on the beaches of Mar del Plata or a season opera ticket at the Teatro Colon.

But Argentine interest in psychology goes beyond the middle class. There are inexpensive psychology clinics in virtually every neighborhood of Buenos Aires, social security covers mental health problems, and elementary schools typically send young children with reading problems to psychologists as a first course of remedial education.

”There is still no systematic sociological or anthropological study that explains why there is such an interest in psychology here,” said Modesto M. Alonso, a leading Argentine psychologist. ”There are only theories.”

Felipe A. Noguera, a political analyst and pollster, speculated that ”Argentina is a very frustrated society because it has long suffered a crisis of expectations.” That crisis, he said, is rooted in a long period of economic expansion between 1880 and 1930, followed by a 60-year slump characterized by political instability, recession and hyperinflation.

”Until very recently,” he added, ”people would say, ‘I work hard but I can’t own a home. I study hard but I have a limited future.’ So many years of frustration created an archetype of negativity, a world view of things being a disaster in Argentina.”

In the 1970’s the right-wing military junta singled out psychology as a national problem, blaming psychologists and psychoanalysts for the country’s negativity and navel-gazing. Several prominent psychologists disappeared.

Argentina first became a world-class center for psychotherapy in the 1940’s, when a wave of European immigrants included several prominent Jewish psychoanalysts from Germany and Austria. Today a large proportion of the country’s psychotherapists and patients are Jews, whose population of 250,000 is one of the largest in the world outside Israel and the United States.

Newspaper reading was the domain of the intelligentsia and upper class in Argentina until the 1930’s, when the tabloid Critica vastly expanded its circulation by inviting readers to send in contributions describing their dreams. Soon after, a popular publishing house known for distributing translations of Tarzan books put out a serial collection of books called ‘Freud for All‘ that became a national sensation.

”That showed that the entire Argentine public is disposed to an interest in psychology, and not just the intellectuals,” said Hugo Vezzetti, a psychology professor at the University of Buenos Aires.

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