Pichon-Rivière, Enrique (1907-1977)

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Enrique Pichon-Rivière, the Argentinean physician, psychiatrist, and psychoanalyst, was born in Geneva on June 25, 1907, and died in Buenos Aires on July 16, 1977.

He was three years old when his parents, originally from France, arrived in Argentina. The family settled in the heart of the Chaco forest and spent four years in this inhospitable region, under the obsessive threat of a fierce attack from the Guarani Indians who, apart from their group incursions, were otherwise hardworking and peaceful. This coexistence afforded the young Enrique an opportunity to familiarize himself with Guarani culture and to learn their language. When he was eight years old, his family left the region to move to the province of Corrientes, before settling in the city of Goya where he studied in the school founded by his mother. Sports, poetry, and painting were the great passions of his childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. Pichon-Rivière readily admitted that his readings of Lautréamont, Rimbaud, and Artaud exercised a constant influence on his thought. In 1946 he published "Lo siniestro en la vida en la obra del conde de Lautréamont [The Sinister in the Life and Work of the Count de Lautréamont].

In Buenos Aires he studied medicine, worked as a journalist, and played an active part in the intellectual Bohemia of his day. He finally qualified as a physician in 1936.

He married Arminda Aberastury, who went on to become an eminent child psychoanalyst. As a result of his success in a competitive examination he was appointed psychiatrist at the Hospicio de las Mercedes. There he experienced something that was to have a decisive influence on his training: the creation of "operational groups." Pichon-Rivière could be described as one of the greatest pioneers of modern psychiatry in Argentina.

Although he had read Freud since his youth and was driven by an intense intellectual curiosity, it was not until the end of the 1930s that he entered into contact with Celes Cárcamo, Angel Garma, and Arnaldo Rascovsky, with whom he founded the Asociación Psicoanalítica Argentina in 1942. He occupied an important position within this institution as the direct or indirect master for several generations of psychoanalysts.

Pichon-Rivière did not leave an abundance of writings behind him. He was more gifted at transmitting his knowledge orally, his teachings being collected and elaborated by his disciples in what could be considered the most creative and the best defined contributions of Argentinean psychoanalysis. Among his most prominent disciples we find José Bleger and David Liberman.

One of the central notions in his work is the constitution of Esquema Conceptual Referential y Operativo (ECRO; Referential and Operational Theoretical Schema) as an instrument for apprehending reality in a scientific manner. In a rising theoretical-practical spiral (praxis) he took a researcher's view of life experience and learning, as well as popular sources of knowledge.

In the scientific milieu his intellectual independence and his indomitable spirit of innovation caused conflict in his relations with institutions and people. His links with the Psychoanalytic Association were punctuated with difficulties and his family life was not renowned for its stability. In 1956 he divorced Arminda Aberastury. His second wife died in a road accident and he finished his days with the woman who helped him to organize and maintain what he claimed was the institutional foundation for his thinking: the School of Social Psychology.

His thinking and scientific development were characterized by his efforts to redefine psychoanalysis as a social psychology. It is no accident that the work that contains the greater part of his writing is entitled Del psicoanálisis a la Psicología social (1970, From Psychoanalysis to Social Psychology). In this volume we find work by Pichon-Rivière from the 1940-1969 period, work that clearly reflects the variety of interests and obsessions that focused his attention in different studies. Among those that stand out for their originality are the creation of "operational groups" and the notions of "mouthpiece" (portavoz ) and "emergent" (emergente ) that derive from this. For the author, the individual is emerging and therefore a mouthpiece for his or her family group, which is in turn the mouthpiece of the socio-cultural group of which it is a part. Hence his conception of the psychism as an "internal group" in interaction with and interdependent with external groups.

In the domain of psychopathology Pichon-Rivière posited that health and illness are not static categories but correspond rather to modes of reading and adapting to reality. "Active adaptation to reality" supposes a transformational and a critical reading of it, a reading that in turn produces a transformation of internal structures. His theory of the "single illness" posits the existence of a central psychotic nucleusa basic depressive situationthat is pathogenic, all pathological structures being attempts at an elaboration of or detachment from this nuclear situation. Among the factors that intervene in the configuration that structures adopt, we can list: polycausality, phenomenal plurality (body, exterior world, and mind) and genetic and functional continuity.

Samuel Arbiser

See also: Argentina; Group psychotherapy; Inter-generational.


Arbiser, Samuel. (1978). Un modelo de psicoterapia grupal. Los aportes de Pichon-Rivière. Revista de Psicoanálisis de la Asociacíon Psicoanalítica Argentina, 35, 4, 821-839.

. (1985). El grupo interno. Reflexiones acerca de la relación entre la red intrapsiquica e interpersonal psicoanálisis. Asociación Psicoanalítica de Buenos Aires, 7, 3, 389-415.

Avenburg, Ricardo. (1996). Enrique Pichon-Rivière, sus ensefianzas a la luz de mi vinculo con Al. Actualidad Psicológica, 21, 231, 12-14.

Pichon-Rivière, Enrique. (1970). Del psicoanálisis a la psicologia social. Buenos Aires: Galerna.

. (1980). Teoria del vinculo. Buenos Aires: Nueva Visión.

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Pichon-Rivière, Enrique (1907-1977)

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