Among Lacan's contributions is the "mirror stage," the idea that when infants see themselves in a mirror, that leads them eventually to produce a sense of self or "I." But this "self" image is also somewhat false -- it is symmetrically inverted, and disconnected from the baby's actual body, notes Joel Dor in "Introduction to the Reading of Lacan:: The Unconscious Structured Like a Language."
If our sense of self is based on an illusion, then, that's very different from the American ideal of individualism.
"Psychoanalysis is not only about understanding the will, but unconscious experience," Brok said.
The fundamentals of psychoanalytic theory are still important in Rolon's view. Sexuality is important in the structure of the psyche. There is an unconscious. There is also what Freud called a "death drive," a self-destructive force that Rolon describes as relating to why people always make the same mistakes. Childhood is important -- personality develops, Rolon says, within the first six or seven years of life -- but that's not the main thing that patients discuss.
"You're going to tell about how is your job, are you in a relationship, what worries you, why did you come, why are you sad or preoccupied," he said. "We're going to speak about today."
Neither Rolon nor most other psychoanalysts today are trying to replicate Freud's psychoanalysis exactly.
"I think what changes is the necessity to adapt it to the conditions of the culture from which the patients have come from -- they are not alike -- over 200 years," Rolon said. "The culture in which a person lives has a lot of influence over what happens to them. And when the culture changes and the cultural rules change, necessarily this introduces a change for us in the clinic."
Not all therapists in Buenos Aires are psychoanalysts, of course -- you can find cognitive and behavioral therapists, as well as other schools of thought.
There's also a financial question that makes modern psychoanalysis different. Traditionally, psychoanalysis patients would have five sessions per week, but in modern society that is both expensive and impractical. Now, most people would do one or two weekly sessions. "More than three -- no one," Rolon said.
Psychotherapy sessions can range between 50 and 500 pesos (about $10 to $100) per session, Alonso says.
Although it can still be expensive, depending on who your therapist is, Frankenberg says generally mental health care in Buenos Aires is accessible to more than just the elite. The good insurance plans pay for a certain number of sessions for particular therapists who accept them; some plans offer partial reimbursement, too.
Just like in the United States, psychologists cannot write prescriptions. The therapists I spoke with said, in their view, Argentine therapists are less oriented toward medication.
Coming and going
Every psychologist has his or her own life story. Rolon grew up in a poor family; his father was a construction worker and his mother cooked outside the home when they needed more money. His parents encouraged him to study hard so that he could be better off. Today, he's a psychology celebrity; I even saw two of his books for sale at a subway vendor.
"I think a great part of my need to listen ... has to do with things that I saw when I was very young," he said.
Word choice is very important in psychoanalysis, Rolon explained. He has had to adapt himself as well to patients from Spanish-speaking countries that use different idioms, words and turns of phrase.
During her two years of psychoanalytic therapy, Rathbon learned a lot about being patient and making changes "one day at a time." She worked as a headhunter in Buenos Aires and maintained a website on the side about being an expatriate.
In January, she decided it was time to go home to Idaho. That's where she is now, figuring out what to do next.
Saying goodbye to her therapist in Buenos Aires wasn't easy.
"Your analyst is so in your head. How do you tell them that you feel like you're finished?" she asked. "I told him that I was moving home and I thought it was a good breaking point. It was hard, it was emotional, but he understood."