Dialogue Interpreting in Mental Health

Dialogue Interpreting in Mental Health

Dialogue Interpreting in Mental Health

Dialogue Interpreting in Mental Health


In this era of globalisation, the use of interpreters is becoming increasingly important in business meetings and negotiations, government and non-government organisations, health care and public service in general. This book focuses specifically on the involvement of interpreters in mental health sessions. It offers a theoretical foundation to aid the understanding of the role-issues at stake for both interpreters and therapists in this kind of dialogue. In addition to this, the study relies on the detailed analysis of a corpus of videotaped therapy sessions. The theoretical foundation is thus linked to what actually takes place in this type of talk. Conclusions are then drawn about the feasibility and desirability of certain discussion techniques.


Since 1995, I have been working as a psychotherapist in a large psychiatric hospital in the Netherlands, in its clinic for the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees with psychiatric problems. The patients in this clinic come from all the war-torn countries in the world. Most of them do not speak Dutch well enough to be able to take part in diagnostic talk and psychotherapeutic sessions and that is why language interpreters are being engaged to assist in communication. This requires me to conduct psychotherapeutic sessions with the help of an interpreter. From the beginning, I have been intrigued by this set-up. What happens when an interpreter enters psychotherapeutic treatment? Psychotherapy in its simplest definition is a 'talking cure' that takes place within a privileged relationship between therapist and patient. It seems to me that these two elements must be seriously influenced by an interpreter's presence and activities, but to what extent and in what way?

As a psychotherapist I have been taught to word my interventions very carefully - the choice of words, tenses and mood each influence the effect of the intervention. At the same time I have no idea what the interpreter is doing to my words - does he retain the therapeutic intention that I put in them or does he turn them into something completely different? Likewise, what happens to the words used by the patient? Psychotherapists have also been taught of the importance of a therapeutic relationship. It has to be built up carefully between therapist and patient. At the same time I needed to deal with the situation that the interpreter could be 'anyone' - so one session with a patient I would have one interpreter to assist us, whereas in the next session with the same patient there would be another interpreter. How could I explain and justify this?

Another interesting point presented itself when I noticed that it was 'not done' to consult the interpreter on the form of our cooperation. Apparently, we were both supposed to know how to set about it.

I became more and more curious as to 'what is going on' in a conversation between two people directly involved who do not understand each other and a third party who understands both primary speakers. This finally led to this study.

At first, my curiosity was mainly directed at the interpreters' renditions. Users of interpreting services have hardly any insight in the quality of the translations. Would one in any way notice when an interpreter delivers translations that differ in content and connotation from what has been said? Although I have developed . . .

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