Is Argentina the world capital of psychotherapy? According to the New York Times:
The number of practicing psychologists in Argentina has been surging, to 196 per 100,000 people last year, according to a study by Modesto Alonso, a psychologist and researcher, from 145 per 100,000 in 2008.
That compares with about 27 psychologists per 100,000 people in the United States, according to the American Psychological Association.
And that’s just the psychologists, only one of several disciplines in which psychotherapists practice. In other words, what about clinical social workers, psychiatrists, mental health counselors, etc.?
Another (now unlinkable) source gives a broader breakdown. Stating that “Argentines are officially the most analyzed people in the world,” the report says there are 15 therapists for every 1000 residents.
Psychoanalysis has apparently found much popularity ever since Freud’s ideas emigrated there in the early 20th century. However, the other end of the spectrum—cognitive-behavioral therapy and other of the shorter-term approaches—is also represented in Argentina.
Apparently high fees don’t necessarily pose a big issue. From the NY Times article: “Andrés Raskovsky, president of the Argentine Psychoanalytic Association, recently asserted that psychoanalysis had little risk of extinction in Argentina since seeing a psychologist twice a week is still viewed as being affordable for much of the population.” When people can’t afford it, sliding scale fees and other types of arrangements are often offered; also, public insurance covers it for some.
One analyst interviewed about the wide acceptance and use of therapy in Argentina says that it’s basically about their people liking to talk—as well as liking having someone to listen.
Could it really be that simple? Probably not.
Maybe Argentinians are more in need of therapy than other folks? Unlikely. In one article last year (update 2018: source no longer available), two therapists who were both originally from the U.S. but now practice in Argentina observe that people have essentially the same types of problems there as anywhere. As stated by one, Steven Nissenbaum: “It doesn’t make a difference what the culture is – people are people. Problems include life transitions, relationships, family, health or addictions.”
Therapy is also big in their popular culture, with the TV show In Treatment, starring Gabriel Byrne as a shrink, currently being quite popular. In addition, on the “Broadway of Buenos Aires” you can now find a staging of “Freud’s Last Session,” last year’s winner of New York’s Off Broadway Alliance award. It’s about the conversations that take place when the seriously ailing Freud invites writer C.S. Lewis to his home in London.
Michael Tanenbaum describes the play for The Argentina Independent:
As the two men carry on their debate – Lewis equating psychoanalysis with intellectual religion and Freud swatting away God as an infantile fantasy – the conversation and circumstances take multiple turns in subject, intensity, and competitive edge, bringing the men together at a historically fateful moment…
God, love, sex, and the meaning of life may be suitable tag words for this play, but overwhelmingly it is a display of the walls we build up and break down in dialogue with ourselves and others.
Another hit play “Toc Toc,” about six characters with obsessive-compulsive disorder who meet in their psychiatrist’s waiting room, is also currently playing.
World capital of psychotherapy? Certainly in the running.