Curled up in a fetal position, Vivi Rathbon would stare at the textured wallpaper of her analyst's office as she spoke.
Sometimes she'd lie flat on her back with her arms dangling off the leather couch. Her therapist sat behind her in a recliner, out of her view. The door was locked for privacy.
This is how Rathbon, of Boise, Idaho, began her sessions of psychoanalysis when she lived in Buenos Aires after college. She went into therapy in 2011 because she suffered from intense depression and felt guilty about choosing to live so far from her family.
Before seeking help, she didn't know that psychoanalysis, while viewed as somewhat obsolete by many professionals in the United States, is commonplace in Buenos Aires. When she first went to see her therapist, she had no idea what she was in for, and spent the first two weeks of sessions lying in silence.
"It was really awkward at first," said Rathbon, 26, who moved to Argentina after graduating from college into a tough job market. "It's very Woody Allen. You're laying there, the analyst just says, 'OK, talk.' 'Talk about what?' 'Anything.' It's free association. You just have to talk about whatever comes to your mind. And that's actually a lot harder than you would think."
It's not just psychoanalysis that's popular in Argentina. The country has the distinction of being home to more psychologists per capita than anywhere else in the world. Almost half the country's psychologists are concentrated in the capital city of Buenos Aires.
Portenos -- that's what residents of Buenos Aires call themselves -- say they don't have the same stigma about seeking mental health treatment as Americans. Whereas mental health treatment in the United States might be seen as something to keep secret, it's common in Buenos Aires to talk about emotional problems or what's going on in therapy.
Going to a therapist just for a space to work through a certain issue might seem frivolous in some cultures, but it's normal in Buenos Aires, said Daniela Frankenberg, a bilingual psychologist practicing there.
"In the expat community here, I see more and more people coming to my office who perhaps in their home country would have never done therapy," Frankenberg said. "Here, feeling that it's something that people do, (they) give themselves room to do that."
Psychotherapy is a tool, "not only to cure emotional and psychological illnesses, but also tools to develop oneself as a person, with a greater quality of life," says psychologist Modesto Alonso.
Alonso's office is on the ninth floor on a wide avenue in the Belgrano neighborhood of Buenos Aires.
With a gentle grandfather-like demeanor, Alonso talks about the most recent study that he and colleagues conducted on psychologists in Argentina. He emphasized that some of the figures are approximate, especially with regard to how many are in Buenos Aires, but they are the best that are out there.
A 2005 World Health Organization study ranked Argentina as the world leader in psychologists per capita, at 106 psychologists per 100,000 people. WHO's numbers for 2011 don't include the country, but Austria's 80 per 100,000 would still pale in comparison to the 202 psychologists per 100,000 that Alonso and colleagues estimated for Argentina in a 2012 study.
Using data from 2011, his group showed that Argentina has about 81,000 practicing psychologists in the country, 46 percent of whom are in Buenos Aires. These numbers do not include psychiatrists.
By comparison, according to the American Psychological Association, based on 2012 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are about 33 clinical, counseling and school psychologists per 100,000 people in the United States -- in line with estimates based on licensing data.
As expected, there are higher concentrations of psychologists in urban vs. rural areas. That also applies in Argentina; in Buenos Aires, there are 1,280 psychologists per 100,000 people, according to Alonso's study.
More and more students are becoming psychologists, too -- about 2.6 students are entering a psychology program for each one who graduates.
One of the soon-to-be psychology graduates is Agustina, 31, who did not want her last name used because her future patients may Google her name.
Every member of Agustina's family goes to some kind of therapy, but, she's quick to add, "It's not that we are completely crazy or something. Nobody has big issues."
She's in group therapy, in which participants speak about their problems and a therapist mediates the discussion. In her circle at school, anyone who hasn't been to therapy is seen as aberrant -- it's like "Oh my God, this person has issues," she said.
Why so many?
Gabriel Rolon, a prominent psychoanalyst who has written several best-selling books -- the new Argentine TV series "Historias de divan" is based on his writings -- said he sees the proliferation of psychologists in Argentina as good news.
While in other countries there may be a clearer division between physical and mental sickness, "in Argentina a very important battle was won, which was giving space to emotional health," he said, and acknowledging that a person who suffers emotionally needs professional help, "just like when he has pain in his knee or another physical symptom."
In his spacious white-and-wood home office, there is a particular sensitivity and poetry in the way that Rolon speaks about why the culture has evolved this way: That the people who created Argentina fled from war, hunger, ideological or religious persecution. Everyone had left something behind -- relatives, friends, language, land -- and so they brought with them a certain sadness and nostalgia.