Finding Lacan in ArgentinaShaun Matthee
This is a Guest Blog by Dr. Leslee Brown, owner of the MindBodyPassport company that organises educational programmes for people interested in Psychodynamics and travelling.
On my last trip to Argentina, the Argentinians told me, “When it comes to choosing a psychoanalyst, we are like women searching for the perfect perfume. We try a bit of this and a bit of that before eventually arriving at the right fit.” There are more psychoanalysts per capita in Argentina than anywhere else in the world. Freud, Jung and Lacan are alive and well in Argentina, as well as many unique depth therapies we don’t hear of in other parts of the world. The Argentinians have a joke that says, “There is a Lacanian Institute on every corner in Buenos Aires”.
Argentinians scoff upon hearing that psychoanalysis has been on the wane in the United States and other countries, rivaled by shorter-term and cheaper modalities. As a psychologist, and professor this perked my interest. As the director of Mind Body Passport, an international adult study abroad company, it challenged me to create a course designed to explore the Argentine passion for all things psychoanalysis.
My love affair and passion for Argentina began! I organized and led an amazing course in Buenos Aires last October (see video). It was so successful and there was so much more I wanted to explore and have others experience that we have another course coming this July: Body, mind & soul, experiencing unique therapies.
On my first visit to Argentina last October, a driver who is also a musician (common in Buenos Aires that you wear multiple hats and have multiple professions) met me at the airport. The old adage of “don’t judge a book by its cover” definitely applies in this country. Without knowing that I was a psychotherapist my driver started discussing his dreams and his own analysis! As it turns out, this was the start of a long series of taxi drivers, bar tenders and assorted strangers in shops and cafes who also openly discussed their therapeutic journeys with me. This is Argentina! You see, it is normal to discuss your analysis and emotions in their culture and almost everyone is in or has had psychotherapy. The Argentinians view psychotherapy as a sign of health. There is a very interesting book which talks about the culture and passion for psychoanalysis in Argentina; Freud in the Pampas.
I chose a quirky and interesting apartment residence that we call home for our stay. It is a true tango house. Every morning we are served a home cooked breakfast by Amy (the owner who becomes your surrogate aunt and friend).
Opening the door to my apartment each day, I hear tango music wafting through the house. Downstairs we sit for breakfast at a big communal table with folks speaking a multitude of languages while a tango lesson is underway at the adjacent tango dance floor.
Our day begins in the most delightful and unexpected way. After breakfast I lead my group to our meeting space, it is on the 19th floor of a beautiful building with a breath taking 360-degree view of Buenos Aires with the iconic Rio De La Plata down below. Dr. Ana Maria Queirolo who is a psychoanalyst and tango professor met us daily. Yes, psychoanalysis +tango= psychotango.
Ana Maria became our Argentine mother. She is a petite, warm, brilliant and friendly ball of fire. As is common in Argentina, her whole family , sister, husband, daughter are all psychoanalysts. Each morning we were served coffee, mate (argentine tea and cultural ritual) and sweet delicious pastries while we learned adding to the warm, relaxed and gracious hospitality of this country.
I live in Los Angeles part of the year, Paris part of the year and the rest of the world the rest of the year. Never in my travels have I met such genuine, warm, friendly and hospitable people.
We spend the morning learning unique combinations of depth therapies with our analysts and experts, who engage us in a journey. After our morning seminars, we shift gears to incorporating the physical with the psychoanalytic; Psycho tango lessons with Dr. Queirolo, a truly extraordinary experience!
After psycho tango, we venture out in the culturally rich, diverse, and wonderful city of Buenos Aires for lunch, a marvelous discussion of our day, and explorations and excursions through this fascinating city.
Every day brought such interesting topics to our seminars that we couldn’t wait to wake up and begin our day!
During the week, we had a rare and coveted opportunity to work at and visit the famous J. T. Borda Psychiatric hospital. At the hospital we worked with psychiatrists and analysts utilizing psycho tango with the schizophrenic patients. We will once again in our summer course have the privilege to work for the afternoon with the schizophrenic patients utilizing psycho tango at The J.T. Borda Psychiatric Hospital. This was an incredible cultural experience to see that psychoanalysis and tango truly do meet in this beautiful dance and expression and healing of self.
As far as depth therapies are concerned, Argentina embraces Freud, Lacan, and Jung. Depth therapy is part of the society as a whole, and is part of normal everyday life. I am from The USA, and we seldom learn and hear about Jacque Lacan and Lacanian Analysis. I learned a great deal about Lacan during our week in Argentina.
Our first seminar was on modern Lacan in practice. We learned about the main concepts of Lacanian psychoanalysis , the basic differences between psychotherapy and psychoanalysis, how each discipline gathers information during the preliminary interviews according to each paradigm, the concepts of demand, desire, and subject, as well as the conditions for a psychoanalytical treatment, the position of the analyst, and how we apply the theory in our interventions from a Lacanian perspective. It all came alive with interesting case studies and examples.
I will never forget one of the cases our analyst presented. It was about a young woman who was told early on that she was nothing and would amount to nothing in her life. She would often talk about herself as being a piece of “shit”. Further on in the analysis she embraced this and turned her “shit” to something useful. She began recycling elephant “shit” into stationery and artwork.
We also learned how depth therapy and psychoanalysis is used in addiction in hospital settings. Most parts of the world use the 12 step recovery treatments, but in Argentina psychoanalysis is widely used in hospitals following a Lacanian approach with input from a team of psychotherapists from different schools of thought.
Quite important in today’s world of immigration with so many people fleeing their homelands for safety was “Psychoanalysis and society: subjective effects of social exclusion”. An analyst discussed working with vulnerable populations (immigrants who are marginalized/ segregated) from a Lacanian perspective. Shedding light on the contributions of psychoanalysis in examining how a subject is affected by segregation and racism.
The Argentinians embrace all depth psychologies and we learned many unique approaches to utilizing depth therapy with different populations and unique applications. I was immersed in depth therapy for the entire week.
What really stands out for me is the combining of psychoanalysis with Tango. This fascinated my group, especially to see this in action with schizophrenic patients at a psychiatric hospital. Having the opportunity to utilize our newly learned skills of Psycho Tango and work with these patients alongside the other analysts was an extraordinary experience. We all learn from textbooks and lectures, but this course was so experiential in nature, that we actually learned by doing, making it so much more real and transferable to our own practices back home.
The evenings are a cultural journey from experiencing closed door dining (chef’s due to economic conditions open their homes to an intimate group of diners), an analytic immersion without words (free webinar Mon. March 28), and Milonga, which is a traditional place to dance tango. The feeling of being in this place left me marveling at how lucky I am to be able to journey and lead people to these places with all of these fascinating people from all over the world. My group too was quite emotional at this journey and marveled at the beauty and grace of what we learned and the expression of that in the tango.
On the last day, we visited La Boca where all the old buildings are painted bright glorious colors and there really is tango and art in the streets. On the bus on the way back to our apartments, the group had a car waiting to take them to the airport for their departures. Jenn one of our participants came to me and said, “I loved this course, trip and experience and I am just not ready to leave”. She changed her ticket and stayed 3 additional days. Alisa, another one of our participants also changed her flight and stayed an extra week.
I too must confess, I stayed 2 additional weeks. I fell in love with the people I met that have become close friends, the ease with which Argentinians talk about their emotions, the amazing food, art and culture and the abundance and passion for psychoanalysis.
I have organized another truly extraordinary week of delving and exploring depth and unique therapies this July in Argentina. I am confident that you too will not only fall in love with this place and people, but will find a renewed sense of who you are and your place in the world.