The Linguist

The Linguist 59,5 - October/November 2020

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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16 The Linguist Vol/59 No/5 2020 FEATURES How to prepare psychotherapists for interpreter-mediated therapy. By Beverley Costa and Jean-Marc Dewaele W e were recently contacted by a psychological therapy service that wanted some advice. What should they do about the clients on their waiting list who needed an interpreter? Was there a sudden shortage of qualified interpreters? No. Instead it appeared that few of their therapists wanted to work with an interpreter, and most refused to see clients who required one. Perhaps the therapists feared that the presence of an interpreter risked undermining their power in the sessions. The problem was therefore not one concerning the supply of interpreters, but rather the lack of awareness and understanding of multilingualism in therapeutic contexts 1 and an uneasiness about a triadic – rather than a traditional dyadic – relationship in the room. Unsurprisingly, many counsellors and psychological therapists can feel anxious about incorporating a third person into the intimacy of the therapeutic relationship. But there are also therapists who welcome working with interpreters. 2 They are the ones who have received training and who have thought about the challenges and opportunities of interpreter-mediated therapy. This should not be left to chance. It is not enough for interpreters to be trained and qualified if therapists don't know how to work collaboratively with them. In order to address health inequalities it is crucial to train all psychological therapists to feel confident to work effectively with an interpreter. To provide a glimpse into the type of training that therapists could be offered we look at two examples of interpreter-mediated therapy where things went wrong. These are real, anonymised cases. The need for mutual trust In this case the client drives a wedge between interpreter and therapist: Lauren/Therapist: So how have things been this week for you? Anya/Interpreter: [Repeats in Polish] Ewa/Client to Anya [in Polish]: I am feeling even worse. I don't think she [indicates the therapist] is very good. What do you think of her? What happens next? If the interpreter answers the client, even briefly, the therapist will start to feel excluded. If the interpreter conveys what the client has said to the therapist, the client will feel betrayed (they hadn't thought the therapist would get to hear about their doubts). Any intervention is now going to be tricky. It would have been better if this situation had been avoided. The saying 'prevention is better than cure' is good advice for interpreter-mediated working practice. In fact, this is what happens next: Anya to Ewa [in Polish]: I have to interpret this to the therapist. I am not allowed to answer your questions. Lauren to Anya: Why are you having a conversation with the client? You are just supposed to translate. Anya to Lauren: That is exactly what I was telling Ewa. Ewa to Anya [in Polish]: What are you both talking about? One of the main reasons that this interaction went wrong is the position the therapist has taken on the active-passive continuum. The therapist swings between the two polar positions. She begins by passively allowing the session to begin with no attention to the specific requirements of the therapeutic interpreter-mediated frame. She then actively (one might say aggressively) challenges the interpreter on her professional decision. This power play is almost inevitable when a therapist feels deskilled, disempowered and disconnected because they don't understand what is going on. Unless those processes are reflected on carefully, they will end up being acted out within the relationships in the room. Good counsel

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