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50th Conference: Psychotherapy across languages

PhD Student Ariadni Loutrari was written a blog about the Psychotherapy across languages talk.

Prof. Jean-Marc Dewaele and Dr Beverley Costa

Written by PhD student Ariadni Loutrari

Professor Jean-Marc Dewaele and Dr. Beverley Costa presented findings from their studies on the role of multilingualism in psychotherapy. They compared monolingual and multilingual therapists’ strategies for providing therapy to patients that do not have English as their first language. The work of Professor Dewaele and Dr. Costa raised some interesting issues for research on psychotherapy and multilingualism that are in line with findings and arguments in the field. For instance, if the additional languages of an individual are ignored in therapy sessions, some of their experiences might never form part of the therapeutic process. More interestingly, multilingualism appears to have a healing effect on the individual. Speaking a ‘newer’ language might give the individual the opportunity to express emotions that they cannot express in their first language, often due to the fact that a culture might suppress a specific emotion. Moreover, the use of additional languages in therapy can keep a patient from becoming re-traumatised. When one describes a traumatic event they have experienced in a given language, they are likely to be re-traumatised when they use the same language in order to describe this experience. However, if they use a different language, they are given the opportunity to have some distance from this traumatic experience, thus coping with the negative emotions and avoiding the possibility of re-traumatisation. Alternatively, learning a second or additional language can be healing if a psychosis is developed in a given language but another language is acquired later in life.

"The data of the study concerning identity showed that patients feel that they have a different persona every time they speak a different language."

In one of their studies, Dr. Costa and Professor Dewaele looked at the beliefs, the attitudes, and the practices of multilingual therapists with multilingual clients. According to their findings, multilingual therapists seem to attune themselves to patients in a more efficient way compared to monolingual therapists. Clients also view multilingualism as an important aspect of the process. Code-switching, which is an integral part of the sessions, takes place more frequently if the emotional tone is raised and it is also used strategically in order for clients to distance themselves from a painful emotion. The data of the study concerning identity showed that patients feel that they have a different persona every time they speak a different language. Data on emotions revealed that emotions are not suppressed when one switches languages. Despite the encouraging results for multilingualism in psychotherapy, some serious issues for the therapists’ professional development emerge. Maintaining their therapeutic footing, meeting the manager’s expectations, and finding their professional identity is not without problems for them.

The findings of these studies reveal a multitude of positive aspects for multilingualism in psychotherapy. These projects also highlight the importance of the contribution of applied linguistics in other research fields through the creation of a very promising interdisciplinary dialogue.

See the recording of the talk here.

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