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The Public Therapists Of Sao Paulo


Many people suffering from anxiety find a therapist. You can picture that experience - a dim room, shades pulled, comfortable chair, even a couch. It's rather different for some people in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Here's NPR's Philip Reeves.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Saturdays make a slow start in this hardworking city. We're in a place called the Roosevelt Square. The morning is as gloomy as the graffiti-scarred apartment blocks that rear up all around.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Unintelligible).

REEVES: It's after 11, but there's hardly anyone here - apart from 12 people on brightly colored beach chairs. They're in pairs, sitting face to face and talking intensely. Among them is Pedro Filardo who's 35 and suffers from...

PEDRO FILARDO: Anxiety, mostly. I get the feeling I'm always anxious. And this doesn't go away very easily. And so I had to rely on help.

REEVES: Filardo's anxiety is the kind that really messes up your life. You avoid certain topics and certain situations, certain places, certain persons, certain - in some kind of way, you're not living fully. Filardo's come to this square because this is where a group of psychotherapists gathers every Saturday to give free outdoor counseling to whoever shows up. Maria Rita Kehl is one of the team.

MARIA RITA KEHL: If we are outside, anyone can come. If we close a door, many people won't feel they have the right to come.

REEVES: Twenty million people live in Sao Paolo, if you count the outskirts. Life can be lonely, especially for people who've moved in from somewhere else, says Dienise Mamede, another therapist.

DIENISE MAMEDE: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "Sao Paolo is very big and very frightening," she says. "People can feel lost."

MAMEDE: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: Mamede says, "this isn't social work or charity. Providing therapy on the square is about giving people a sense that the city belongs to them and that everyone, rich and poor, has the right to get help."

MAMEDE: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "This project's political," she says.

Psychotherapy is generally popular in Brazil. The government does provide some free services, but health care professionals say accessing the right kind of treatment can be difficult. People with mental issues can also be stigmatized, says Marisa Vicente, who's come to the square for counseling.

MARISA VICENTE: (Through interpreter) People ask, why do you want psychoanalysis? Are you going mad?

REEVES: Vicente, who's 51, says she needs help coping...

VICENTE: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "With grief and loss."

Her mom died recently, her daughter's just married, and Vicente's about to retire from her job as a civil servant. She doesn't mind sitting outside getting therapy in full view of everyone.

VICENTE: (Through interpreter) In an office, you're not interacting in your own environment. Here, there are people passing by. There are dogs, drunks, people on drugs. For me, that's real life.

REEVES: Coming to this scruffy city square on this grim day seems to have helped Vicente a lot in her battle with real life.

VICENTE: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: She says it's brought a feeling of great relief. This was her first time. It won't be her last.

VICENTE: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "I'll be back," she says.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, Sao Paolo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.
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