The mystery of Babel: An exploration of providing psychotherapy in a second language with monolingual clients

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Lovas, Szilvia
Issue Date
MA in Psychotherapy
Dublin Business School
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The aim of this study was to explore the multilingual phenomenon in psychotherapy. More precisely, the study focused on the impacts of multilingual therapeutic dyads, when therapists provide sessions in their second language – English – which has been learned at a post-primary school stage in life. Another important aspect of this research project was that the sessions were given in the client’s first language. To do this, a qualitative research method was carried out. Six psychotherapists, having experience in the multilingual context, coming from diverse cultural and language backgrounds were recruited and interviewed. Semi-structured interviews were applied as means of data collection. These interviews were recorded, transcribed and analysed using thematic analysis. Three main themes were identified. The results of this study suggest that not sharing the same mother tongue in the therapeutic alliance can bring up additional layers of anxiety, though, at the same time, these challenges can also be fertile ground for therapeutic explorations. Regarding the journey of becoming a therapist, most participants shared their struggles of being a client in English during their training. They expressed difficulties such as not being able to express themselves at times in English, particularly when a traumatic experience came up from the past. Becoming a therapist in a second language was also an anxiety-provoking process. The results provided an insight into the different unconscious processes of such a relationship, including body language and the dynamics of the multicultural therapeutic dyads. The findings also suggested that challenges of this kind could serve as therapeutic tools for further exploration about the client’s perceptions of themselves and the world they live in.