When Berkeley grad student Mariano Ben Plotkin arrived in Buenos Aires  on vacation, his aunt questioned him about California’s cost of living, which she found astonishingly cheap. On hearing his item-by-item accounting, the porteña psychoanalyst commented, “Oh, now I understand—there you don’t need to budget for psychoanalysis.”
New Yorkers may chatter about their therapists, but porteños can match or surpass them—here, psychoanalysis and other therapies are not for the upper and upper-middle classes alone. During registration at the Universidad de Buenos Aires medical school, a flurry of flyers offers psychoanalysis and psychotherapy with UBA professionals—the first session free—for individuals, couples, and groups. Subte handouts declare that “Asking for help is the start of solving the problem” and tempt commuters with “unlimited sessions.”
In recent years the therapy obsession may have been a function of economic crisis, and even the former corralito banking restrictions have been interpreted in this context. In an early 2002 interview with National Public Radio’s Martin Kaste, a Freudian psychiatrist argued that “Money has a certain symbolic equivalence to the penis. People put their money in the bank, but at the moment they want to withdraw it they lose their money, so this produces a castration anxiety.”
Another claimed that “sexual desire has also been caught in the corralito—men worry about lack of desire and premature ejaculation, and women are unable to have orgasms.” The 2002 Festival de Tango even included a session on Tango de Autoayuda (Self-Help Tango).
Meanwhile, angry real-estate brokers picketed the residence of caretaker President Eduardo Duhalde, himself a former real-estate agent, but not necessarily in hope of any relief for a frozen real-estate market. Rather, proclaimed one protestor, “This turned into our therapy, a place to set our anguish free.”
Therapy, though, is not just a function of the times; it began with the 1930s arrival of Jewish refugees from Europe. Ben Plotkin himself has chronicled this tale in Freud on the Pampas: the Emergence and Development of a Psychoanalytic Culture in Argentina (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001).
Many of Buenos Aires ’s thousands of shrinks practice in Palermo ’s so-called Villa Freud, an area bounded by Avenida Santa Fe, Avenida Las Heras, Avenida Scalabrini Ortiz, and Avenida Coronel Díaz. Patients can top off their meds at the Farmacia Villa Freud (Medrano 1773, tel. 011/4825-2612). One online magazine specializes in listings for professional office rentals, and even acting classes are often exercises in therapy.
Institutions add to the therapeutic ambience. The Asociación Psicoanalítica Argentina (Rodríguez Peña 1674, tel. 011/4812-3518, www.apa.org.ar ) once organized a monthlong exhibition on “Psychoanalysis, Culture, and Crisis” at the Centro Cultural Borges. The Museo de Psicología Horacio Piñeiro (Avenida Independencia 3065, 3rd floor, tel. 011/4931-5434, 9 a.m.–6 p.m. Mon. and Fri.) recounts the experimental efforts of an early-20th-century pioneer.
Villa Freud’s locus, though, is Librería Paidós (Avenida Las Heras 3741, tel. 011/4801-2860, www.libreriapaidos.com.ar ), an inconspicuous bookstore in the Galería Las Heras.
In Argentine cinema, therapy is as common as in Woody Allen films—in Rodolfo Durán’s 2007 comedy Terapias Alternativas (Alternative Therapies), an apathetic loner psychoanalyst winds up unexpectedly caring for his own son by a brief relationship and simultaneously sharing accommodations with a suicidal patient. Allen himself is a great favorite, and for that matter, he once suggested he might film in Buenos Aires .
More recently, a hit play on Avenida Corrientes went by the title Therapy: If Only Freud Could See This, but such matters are not always humorous. In the summer of 2010, after junior lightweight boxer Rodrigo “The Hyena” Barrios killed a pregnant woman in a Mar del Plata hit-and-run, he took several hours to surrender to police, apparently to avoid alcohol and drug tests. In the ensuing days, he managed to remain free on bail as he underwent “psychological testing.”