A brief history of psychodrama in Argentina

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By Roger Schaller

Being one of the countries with most psychologists in the world – there are 194 psychologists for every 100,000 citizens, the highest ratio in the world – Argentina owns an authentic psychotherapeutic culture (Fierro, Álvarez & Manzo, 2018). Since 1965, more than 101,000 Argentinians have obtained a degree in psychology and there are currently more than 98,000 active professionals in the country. (Alonso & Klinar, 2016). It’s therefore hardly surprising that psychotherapy, and later psychodrama, found fertile ground in the region almost since the beginning of its development (Fernández-Alvarez, Bregman, 2018). Even if today the greatest number of therapists and institutions working with psychodrama are found in Brazil, Argentina has been the forerunner of psychodrama in Latin America. (Fernández-Alvarez, 1998).

The historical precedents: from Freud to Pichon-Rivière

According to Fierro et al. (2018), “Freudian doctrines began to infuse the thought of Argentinian professionals since around 1910, mainly through secondary sources from French scholars”. And by the 1930s, “Freud was already relatively well known by health-related professions, especially in psychiatry”. However, psychotherapy experienced a boom after the local institutionalisation resulting from the creation of the Argentinian Psychoanalytic Association (APA) in 1942, recognised officially in 1944 by the International Psychoanalytic Association (Fierro et al., 2018):

Nevertheless, it was with the local institutionalisation of psychoanalysis that the influence of Freudian doctrines in Argentina experienced a process of accelerated progressive and systematic expansion and diffusion. Founded by local as well as European emigres with psychoanalytic orientations like Angel Garma, Arnaldo Rascovsky and Enrique Pichón Rivière, and with a clear emphasis on the treatment of neurosis and of psycho-somatic illnesses, the APA enabled the starting of official training programs through didactic analysis in Argentina (Balán, 1991).

The APA played a significant role in the promotion and spread of psychoanalysis. It soon began to establish contacts with medical groups and institutions to disseminate psychoanalysis among them. Since its creation, and especially during Pichon Riviere’s term as president in the early 1950, the aim was to broaden the scope of psychoanalysis and to reach out to other sectors of the society. To this end, “psychoanalysts gave informative talks in such places as art galleries and schools (…) and Pichon-Rivière became a crucial link between psychoanalysis and the society at large.” (Plotkin, 2001) Mauricio Abadi (as cited in Hollander 1990) details all the efforts deployed by the APA with the objective to disseminate psychoanalysis within the population at large:

They lectured at hospitals, struggling against initial resistance by the medical community, to implement individual and group therapy as a model for treating illness. (…) They taught courses at the Medical School of the University of Buenos Aires, which were attended not only by students, but by the public at large. Analysts travelled to other cities in Argentina to give lectures and offer courses, sometimes of a month’s duration, and gave papers at international and Latin American psychoanalytic and medical congresses, many of which they organised. Well known representatives of English, European, and North American psychoanalysis came to supervise and give courses at the APA, drawing publicity in the major newspapers of Buenos Aires. Analysts spoke on the radio, wrote columns for newspapers, and published monographs and books.

At the same time, Argentina was experiencing a period of cultural boom and, especially after President Juan Perón was overthrown in 1955, “there was a big reception of anything coming from Europe” (Ploktin, as cited in Goldhill, 2016). Hollander (1990) explains that: “aware of its prestige in Europe and anxious to emulate their counterparts in Buenos Aires, the middle class flocked to psychoanalysis which was seen by many as an emancipatory doctrine.”

The introduction of group therapy in the late 1950 was also a crucial contribution to the diffusion of psychoanalytic discourse and practice, and, as we will see later, to the emergence of psychodrama in the country. It is Pichon Riviere who, following Paul Schilder’s ideas, first introduced group methods in 1947 in a large psychiatric hospital of Buenos Aires, the Hospital Neuropsiquiátrico. However, “his pioneer work encountered opposition and he had to leave only to return in 1954 after visiting Europe and set up an ambitious project which included in-patient group therapy and groups with the staff.” (Marrone, 1979)

Separately, in 1950 Usandivaras (1982) started his doctoral program at the “Servicio Pinel” of the same hospital with group psychotherapy as main subject. After a few months he was also authorised to create a therapeutic group with the patients of the service. This first therapeutic group was the driving force behind the rapid growth of the group psychotherapy movement in Argentina. (Moghilevsky, 2017). Alongside with his doctoral activities, Usandivaras began to organise seminars on group therapy and «rapidly many psychiatrists and psychoanalysts who were working in institutional settings became interested in groups.» (Marrone, 1979) In 1954, he attended the First International Congress of Group Psychotherapy in Toronto with some Argentinian colleagues, where they came to know the two major figures of group psychotherapy at that time, Moreno and Slavson.  Usandivaras (1982) explains that as they were irreconcilable opponents, they had to choose one or the other, and went for Slavson.

In September 1954, shortly after returning to Argentina, they formed the Argentinian Association of Group Psychology (AAPG). Its creation marked the beginning of the institutionalisation of group therapy, especially through the development of training courses, the first of which was held in 1955 at the Fontana and Bleger clinic. In the wake of the first Latin-American Congress of Group Psychotherapy, organised by the AAPG in September 1957 at the University of Buenos Aires, «the clinical practice of group psychotherapy expanded quickly, theoretical and supervision seminars proliferated and international contacts were established.» (Marrone, 1979).

In 1961, the Board of the Association proposed the creation of a scientific journal to promote the accomplishments of group work and the first issue of the of the Journal of Group Psychology and Psychotherapy was published in the same year. The journal was characterised by its interdisciplinary approach to group therapy – including articles about innovative group techniques like psychodrama. Indeed, psychotherapy developed considerably during the 1960s, moving away from the classical clinical model described by Gregorio Bermann, which resulted in the development of a specialisation in the field. (Moghilevsky, 2017). However, according to Marrone (1979) the tendency toward diversification was already perceptible at the first Latin-American Congress of Group Psychotherapy: “Looking at the proceedings of that Congress, it is possible to see how the three main areas of group work which were going to develop in Argentina were already delineated: analytic group therapy, learning groups and psychodrama.”

Psychodrama in Argentina

Psychodrama began in Argentina with sporadic clinical experiences carried out in several institutions of Buenos Aires by various group psychotherapists in the late 50s – Dr. Morgan at the Hospital Neuropsiquiátrico de Hombres or Dr. Salas Subirat at the Hospital Británico among others (Gómez 1984). Still, the history of psychodrama in Argentina is associated with the name of Rojas Bermudez, who introduced psychodramatic techniques at the Instituto de Neurosis de la Capital Federal in 1957 and a couple of years later at the Hospital de Niños and the Hospital de Clínicas. (Moghilevsky, 2017). In 1962 Rojas Bermudez went to New York to meet Moreno and his team at the Moreno Institute and, shortly after returning to Argentina, he organised the first psychodrama groups for adults and children as well as the first public psychodrama sessions. These first experiences were supported by the Association of Psychology and Group Psychotherapy. A year later, in 1963, Jaime Rojas Bermudez, along with Rosa Glasserman and Eduardo Pavlovsky, returned to the USA to train in psychodrama with Moreno in Beacon Hill. Moreno also suggested them to found the Argentine Association of Psychodrama and Group Psychotherapy, which was created on April 1, 1963. (Garzón Suárez, Ruiz Caraballo, Sanabria Macías 2019)

However, after a couple of years a split occurred within the argentine psychodramatist movement, as prominent figures like Glasserman, Moccio, Martinez Bouquet and Pavlovsky turned to the French psychoanalytic school and distanced themselves from the Moreno Institute. Two main lines with their own frames of reference emerged: Morenian psychodrama and psychoanalytic psychodrama. In 1965, Moccio, Martinez Bouquet and Pavlovsky founded the Latin American Experimental Psychodramatic Experimental Group. Characterised by its leadership, the group generated important publications and initiated a wide range of institutional activities, giving rise to a second generation of psychoanalytic psychodramatists (Filgueira Bouza, 2012).

Parallelly, classical morenian psychodrama was also developing fastly in Buenos Aires in the late 60s, mainly thanks to the proactive work of the Argentine Association of Psychodrama and Group Psychotherapy. With the official recognition of psychodrama as a valid psychotherapy technique by the National Directorate of Mental Health, the systematic training of psychodramatists began in the form of regular courses that were given by the association. (Garzón Suárez et al.,2019) According to Plotkin (2001), the organisation of weekly public psychodrama sessions also had a strong impact in the popularisation of psychodramatic psychotherapy: “Psychodrama took psychotherapy outside the consulting room and turned it into a spectacle for a public that seized every opportunity for a modern expressive experience. Some psychodrama sessions were held in rented halls and attracted over three hundred participants and spectators.”

In 1969, the Association of Psychodrama and Group Psychotherapy organised the 4th International Congress of Psychodrama and Sociodrama. This event was honoured by the presence of Jacob Levy Moreno, being the only time he visited Latin American territory (Gómez, 1984). In 1972, the first Argentine-Brazilian psychodrama meeting was held and a year later the Latin American Federation of Psychodrama was founded in Buenos Aires. In the year 1975, the Association of Psychodrama and Group Psychotherapy organised the first Latin American Congress of Psychodrama in Buenos Aires. (Filgueira Bouza, 2012)

Among the clinical applications of morenian psychodrama during these times, it is worth mentioning the psychodramatic care service, which operated from 1970 to 1976 at the Centro de Salud Mental Ameghino in Buenos Aires under the direction of Dr. Carlos Menegazzo. It not only provided therapeutic assistance to groups of adults, adolescents, families and couples, but also trained a group of professionals in the psychodramatic method at the hospital level. (Zuretti & Bustos, 2006).

Buenos Aires soon became a pioneer in Latin America with regard to the dissemination of psychodramatic theory and methodology to the interior of the country as well as other countries of the continent, particularly Brazil and Uruguay. Various study groups were created in several cities such as La Plata, Córdoba, Mendoza, Tucumán, Comodoro Rivadavia, Salta and Jujuy (Moghilevsky, 2017)

However, between 1976 and 1983, group therapy and psychodrama disappeared from the institutions due to the political repression of the argentine dictatorship. Hospital services and faculties were dismantled and a great number of professionals emigrated or were silenced.  Psychologist were only allowed to act as a collaborator of doctors or psychiatrists, as a national resolution forbade psychologists to engage in any other practice. Accordingly, they weren’t allowed to practice psychoanalysis or psychotherapy, nor doing research activities. Their only responsibility and right was to administer psychological tests. (Stein-Sparvieri & Maldavsky, 2008) But even in these unfavourable conditions some continued their task of training and assistance in private, obviously self-censoring references to the socio-political context. (Vaimberg & Lombardo, 2015). (Garzón Suárez et al.,2019)

The Sociedad Argentina de Psicodrama (SAP) for example was born as a project in 1980 under the military dictature, with the aim of bringing together psychodramatists of all tendencies and as a need to recover what had been lost. It started its activities in 1983 after the end of the dictatorship with a series of conferences and meetings and reunited the different schools of psychodrama in the country for scientific confrontation in order to reach a more thorough understanding of its application. (Filgueira Bouza, 2012)

In 1982 the Malvinas War took place; on that occasion psychodramatic work was done with the psychotherapists who had to assist the ex-combatants and/or family members, and in the community with the dramatisation of the different aspects of the social drama.

With the constitutional government and the democratic transition, psychodramatists returned to state institutions and it was possible to begin to elaborate the social drama suffered. Old spaces were retaken and new ones were opened.(Moghilevsky, 2017) In these post-dictatorship years, the publication Lo Grupal, directed by Eduardo Pavlovsky and Juan Carlos De Brasi, which gathers ten volumes between 1983 and 1993, was an unavoidable reference on the subject of the group in Argentina. The project resumes, after years of exile, the revolt of Argentinean psychoanalysis, which in the seventies decided to accompany the emancipatory social movement, in rupture with the Argentinean Psychoanalytic Association (APA). Indeed, in comparison with the French psychodramatic movement, which was focused on training, the Argentinean psychodramatists have a critical and questioning attitude towards institutions and “official psychoanalysis”. Lo Grupal aimed to promote a reflection on the relations between dictatorship and civil society, on the derivations of Argentine psychoanalysis towards the public sphere and on a renewal of the social role of the psychologist in his projections towards community-oriented social practices.

In 1985, Pavlovsky founded the Centro de Psicodrama Psicoanalítico Grupal (CPPG), an institution dedicated to training in Psychoanalytic Psychodrama, which was one of the main spaces of diffusion of the publication. A second center was created in 1996 in Mar del Plata, with the general coordination of Eduardo Hernandez, who graduated from the CPPG. (Cardaci, 2016).

In 1992, Adriana Piterbarg founded the School of Psychodrama of San Miguel with the objective to expand the theoretical frames of psychodrama techniques by adopting a pluralistic and participative approach. It was later renamed School of Art and Psychodrama.

In 1994, Moysés Aguiar, a Brazilian psychodramatist and director of the Spontaneous Theatre Company, is invited to the X National Meeting of the Spanish Psychodrama Association (AEP) in Archena (Murcia). With José Antonio Espina Barrio, author of the history of Spanish psychodrama, they talk about the idea of an Ibero-American psychodramatic space with similar linguistic and cultural roots, giving birth to the Foro Iberoamericano de Psicodrama (FIP). (Vaimberg & Lombardo, 2015).

The SAP is integrated in the FIP since its creation in 1997, and participated in all the successive Ibero-American congresses, organising the one in 2003. The SAP was however dissolved in 2007, giving way to the Network of Psychodramatists in Argentina ‘Llamada’, which hosted the 2013 congress. (Filgueira Bouza, 2012)

In the beginnings of 2000’s, psychodrama has gained increased relevance in different sectors of the argentine society, not only in the universities – since 2004 the University of Buenos Aires opened its doors to psychologists who wanted to train in psychodrama – but also in the streets and squares of Buenos Aires and other cities of the country. An event called “Escenas de los Pueblos” took place in October 2002, inspired by the experience of Sao Paulo one year earlier. Psychodramatists from various cities in Argentina and other countries went out to the squares and streets to invite the people to express their feelings. It was the first public and simultaneous psychodrama session in Latin America. (Hernandez 2018)

The wide acceptance of psychodrama theories and techniques is also evidenced by the large number and the diversity of studies published over these years. Among others, one can mention the studies that approach psychodrama from the educational field. Carolina Pavlovsky, for example, analysed in 2003 the relevance of images in thought, highlighting its importance in the capacity of imagination and in the ability to express feelings without being limited by the verbal communication. Moreno, J. (2008), also focused on the significance of psychodrama in education, demonstrating that dramatic spontaneity can help the child freely develop his potential and personality. The aim was to promote the implementation of psychodrama in the school environment and thus helping to promote conflict resolution mechanisms among students in a spontaneous, creative and dramatic way. Another common field of research focused on psychodrama applied in the organisational field. In 2012, Torres, A. showed how psychodrama techniques can be implemented in management in order to train specific objectives such as teamwork, time management, innovation, overcoming rivalries between teams or managers, accepting the leadership of the manager, sharing the motivational value of a project or developing the ability to give feedback. The research evidenced that psychodrama is a therapeutic technique that also enhances personal growth and learning life skills. Finally, we can also mention the work of Mochales, I. (2016), focusing on the awareness and the “Clic” moments in the intervention with gender violence victims, or researches on the history of psychodrama like the publication of Cardaci, G (2016) focused on the figure of Eduardo Pavlovsky. (Garzón Suárez et al.,2019)

 


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Information about the author:
Roger Schaller Psychotherapeut für Kinder, Jugendliche und Erwachsene und als Verkehrspsychologe. Leitung des Institutes für Psychodrama und Aktionsmethoden www.ipda.ch (seit 2013)