"We became listeners interested in the pain of others, because we also needed people to be interested in our pain," he said.
This theory, he admits, may be more poetic than real, but it's true that modern Argentina has had a lot of influence from European immigration, particularly from independence in the 19th century until the 1950s, when immigration restrictions tightened during the country's military dictatorships.
The United States also had European immigration during this time, and psychoanalysis was also "the thing to do" in America in the 1940s, '50s and '60s, said Albert Brok, a psychologist who practices in New York but grew up in Argentina. But this form of therapy faded as a fad, conflicting with ideas about pragmatism, will and work ethic that are dominant in American culture.
Many Argentines I spoke with agreed that their culture is one in which people talk about their personal issues more openly than in the United States.
"In other countries, people are more closed off about their problems," Frankenberg said. "There's much more of a push for people to resolve their issues elsewhere, like throwing themselves into work."
People in Argentina commonly kiss one another on the cheek in saying hello and goodbye, expressing a warm feeling even between a dentist office receptionist and patient. They talk about their feelings. They sit in cafes without a sense of urgency, drinking café con leche with a small glass of soda water and eating small cookies.
Brok said the United States tends to have a culture more oriented toward shame and individualism, and an ethic of finding solutions to particular problems.
Argentina, he says, is more into introspection. The Argentine tango, too, invokes nostalgia and self-exploration, Frankenberg said.
The slowness of psychoanalysis in particular may make it unattractive in other cultures, Rolon said. No analyst can guarantee a result in six months, and therapy goes as long as it continues to feel right to the patient and analyst. Rolon has himself been going to psychoanalytic therapy for 25 years.
"Maybe a patient comes because of a problem. And when that problem is resolved, he realizes that he wants to continue working on other problems. In analysis, that is permitted," he said. "In other kinds of therapy, when a problem is resolved, it's over."
Fundamentals of psychoanalysis
The area around Plaza Guemes is nicknamed "Villa Freud" because of the concentration of psychologists' offices there. Frankenberg says it makes sense for many professionals to have offices there because it's "very safe and beautiful and commercial," with easy access.
In the display window of Libreria Legenda, a bookstore on a side street near Plaza Guemes, three books were lined up together among a smorgasbord of historical and philosophical titles: Writings of Jacques Lacan, a book about famous cases of psychosis and readings on the psychoanalysis of Freud and Lacan.
You've probably heard of Freud, perhaps best known for his beliefs that behaviors could be traced to several stages of psychosexual development, and that the human psyche has components called id, ego and superego. He argued that the unconscious has a critical role in the formation of our concept of self.
Lacan is more obscure in America, but he has been influential in the European thinking about the psyche that made its way down to Argentina.
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.