Why did psychoanalysis take hold and become so popular in Argentina?
There is no one answer as to why psychoanalysis took hold and became so prevalent in Argentina, even as it has declined as a practical means of attaining therapy in the United States. As a 2013, report by CNN noted, the World Health Organization ranks Argentina “as the world leader in psychologists per capita, at 106 psychologists per 100,000 people. . .By comparison . . . there are about 33 clinical, counseling and school psychologists per 100,000 people in the United States . . .” [See “In Therapy? In Argentina it’s the Norm,” April 28, 2013] Theories as to why a South American population would be so receptive to an early 20th Century European school of thought regarding mental health include Argentina’s own historical, cultural and ethnic ties to Europe, exemplified, as a 2012 article in the New York Times suggested, in the immigrant experience that forms so much of Argentine culture:
“The country, some say, was long vulnerable to melancholia, or at least an acceptance of sharing those troubles with a patient listener. With its history of immigration, largely from Europe, Argentina has a tradition of drawing inspiration from European intellectual trends, including the rise of Freudian psychology a century ago. Spanish immigrants who sought opportunities away from the fascist rule of Francisco Franco were pivotal in establishing psychoanalysis in the 1940s as a respected profession in Argentina. Nowadays, some of the top psychoanalysts here are Jewish, most of them descendants of European Jews.”
Whether this is accurate is highly uncertain. One Argentine expert on the subject is quoted in the same article as attributing the popularity of psychoanalysis to the country’s “large, relatively well-educated middle class in the 1960s.” [“Do argentines need therapy? Pull up a couch” New York Times, August 18, 2012] It is likely that Argentina’s strong – in fact, overwhelming – European heritage has influenced the country’s approach to mental health care. Mariano Plotkin, the aforementioned “expert” quoted in the New York Times article, has studied the issue for decades and his 1998 essay, “The Diffusion of Psychoanalysis in Argentina,” notes the prevalence of psychoanalysis in Argentine society and the extent to which the lexicon and concepts of psychoanalysis have “permeated almost all levels of public discourse” and that “psychoanalysis has become a weltanschauung, despite Sigmund Freud's concerns.” Yet even Plotkin is at a loss for a definitive explanation for Freud and Jung’s enduring popularity in his homeland. In the end, one can conclude that the prevalence of psychiatry and psychology in Argentine society is indicative of a society both accepting of mental health care and internally torn by the nation’s continued reminder – remember its humiliating loss to Great Britain in the 1982 Falklands War and subsequent political transformation – of its relative position in world affairs and its economic subordination to its northern neighbor, Brazil. But, I could be wrong.