The Linguist

The Linguist 53,2

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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8 The Linguist APRIL/MAY FEATURES Janet Fraser explores the subtleties of providing therapy across language barriers I t was an Austrian physician, Josef Breuer, 1 who first coined the term 'the talking cure' but Freud who adopted it to describe what went on in the emerging field of psychoanalysis. It is now used to refer to a range of therapies, including psychoanalysis, counselling, various branches of cognitive behavioural therapy and psychotherapy. 2 Many of us benefit from a short- or long-term 'talking cure' at some point in our lives. But if you find yourself facing emotional difficulties in a country whose language you don't speak, how can you access the talking cure? And what happens if you use a sign language to communicate? To find out, I asked six therapists, 3 working either in both English and another language or in British Sign Language (BSL), to complete a short survey. Academic researchers are focusing increasingly on the role of a client's cultural and linguistic identity in therapy, 4 but I wondered what skills therapists need in order to manage a working environment in which linguistic choices may be a vital clue to the client's concerns, and where it can be just as important to attend to how someone is speaking as to what they are saying. I found my participants through a directory of bilingual and multilingual therapists offering services in around 50 languages ( First things first Antonio, Elena, Meena and Uta offer therapy in both English and their other language(s). The proportion of non-English work varies over time but currently ranges from 10-50 percent. Antonio (Spanish) was born and trained in the UK but raised bilingually, while Elena (Russian), Meena (Hindi, Gujarati, Punjabi and Urdu) and Uta (German) were all born outside the UK but did their therapy training here. So what issues does practising bilingually raise? In many languages, the first decision to be made in any conversation is the choice of second-person pronoun – formal or informal (V or T)? This choice is not always entirely straightforward in ordinary conversation but it can be particularly problematic in a therapeutic context: is the client keen to keep a distance through the use of V or might they choose T as a statement of desire for a more intimate relationship? The use of tú by Spanish people is widespread, and Antonio reports that most clients immediately use it with him, 'perhaps because they recognise that the [therapeutic] relationship involves intimacy'. While he would fall in with their choice to use usted instead, that choice might be significant if, for example, it was being used as a distancing device. However, where a client starts with usted, he says, they may switch to tú once they have established a rapport with him. The conventions governing the use of du and Sie in German are rather more formalised, and Uta reports that her clients' choice will typically be governed by age and class and, Counselling: in your own words Anissa works in Mandarin, English and her native Cantonese. The first barrier is to stop my clients addressing me as 'Mrs' – that is the norm in Chinese culture when you talk to someone who is older. I have to succeed in that or they will put me in an unequal place, which is against my counselling philosophy. I classify myself as a bilingual and bicultural person but because I was trained in psychotherapy in English, all the terminology I learnt is in English, so I am not familiar with the psychotherapeutic language in Cantonese. When I get stuck we tend to switch to English, which helps with the communication but the essence of what they're saying may be diluted. If they go to an English-speaking therapist, some of the cultural references will be lost. I know enough of the colloquial expressions that I can really capture what they're trying to express, and it's not just about cognitive understanding – it's the sentiments and emotions that can be captured through this slang. Knowing what they are really trying to say can be difficult because in the Chinese culture, seeing me as an older person, they find it hard to disagree with me. It's quite tricky to establish that trust so that they can say what they think. A THERAPIST'S VIEW

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