There’s a few things that are very common in Buenos Aires: beautiful women, good steak, Malbec wine, dog poo on the streets (more on that at a later date), and friends who visit a psychologist. Yes, more common than the US (where I thought it was mandatory if you lived in LA or NYC), it seems that almost every Argentinian I know, plus a few non-Argentinians who have been living here for a while, have a psychologist that they see on a regular basis.
Now don’t get me wrong, as someone with enough mental health issues to fill a semester’s worth of classes on the subject, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with seeking help to address your personal problems. And the acceptance of psychology as an option for dealing with a person’s issues is something that Australian society could probably learn something from, with our major hangups on mental health issues. Just try telling a friend back home that you’re “feeling depressed”, you’ll be told one of two things: “Man the fuck up”, or “Let’s get drunk and forget about it” (that last one is my usual option of choice).
But I’m just truly amazed by just how common it is here. And from that amazement comes an inherent curiosity of why.
Asked a local friend why, his response: “Yeah is quite common for people with no friends and with no alcohol issues like me”. An answer most Australians could identify with I’m sure.
So I thought I’d expand my very unscientific survey to the member of baexpats.org, an online forum set up for expats living in Buenos Aires, though from some of the posts it’s fairly obvious membership has expanded to include Argentinians too.
One member regarded it as a positive, though did so while grouping it with cosmetic surgery and diets and the desire to become “the perfect person”. What exactly is “the perfect person”? I for one don’t see anything healthy in cosmetic surgery nor constant diet fads, so hopefully psychologists aren’t really along the same lines. Or are they, and is it just another part of society constantly saying there’s something “wrong” with you that you need to fix? And is Buenos Aires simply a convergence, or a focal point, of the latest western fads with their desire to emulate the west to differentiate themselves from the rest of Latin America?
This possibility was reinforced by a couple of comments in the discussion:
“[I] notice that it [going to a psychologist] creates narcissism in many here in Buenos Aires…”
“Culturally speaking, in some circles, having a therapist is actually a prestigious thing like the brands you wear or car you drive.”
The narcissistic angle is interesting. I know that a common complaint from others (and too common to just be whinging) is that many Argentinians think they are “the best” at everything. Do they view going to a psychologist as showing they are “the best” mentally?
Another suggestion was that for many from Buenos Aires, going to a psychologist was a little like going to church in the US, it was more an act of “faith” than any real search for a solution to a specific mental health issue. And just as preachers will tell you that none of us are born “free of sin”, so a Beunos Aires psychologist will say that we all have neurosis that need ongoing “treatment”.
An Argentinian friend of one of the BAexpats members explained to him that locals preferred to talk with their therapists about their personal lives rather than with their friends. In other words, they consider that their friends are meant for family gatherings, sports events, going out to the theatre or clubs an so forth rather than for revealing deeply intimate secrets. If so then I’d have some real concerns about what “friendship” really means in this city, and will quote a comment from someone else in the discussion:
“If you cannot have good friends that you can talk to frankly about your problems well the friendship has little value and you may as well have a pet.”
Sure, we have issues in Australia with men especially keeping things bottled up …etc, so we’re far from perfect (who is?), however we do seem to in the main be able to share our personal issues with our friends in much the same way as it seems folk here share with their psychologist. Is it the drinking culture that helps? Does a few drinks make it easier to reveal those deep, dark secrets to our closest friends, however embarrassing they may be? Alcohol can cause a lot of issues, but is this one of the unsung benefits of a drinking culture? Or am I just whistling Dixie?