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Beyond language…in ‘talking’ therapies

Thursday, October 9th, 2008 @ 12:48 pm
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Posted in  Language

One of the main themes that appear in my research data, is the issue of the use of second language by immigrant therapists. Most of my interviewees who found themselves practising in a culture/country different than their original one, including myself, are talking about how it is to be receiving counselling/psychotherapy training in a second language, how it is to be offering therapy in a second language, how it is to be receiving therapy (when in client’s role) in a second langauge and so on. This kind of discourse is presenting both positive and more challenging dimensions – for ,some the use of second language has been liberating and enriching, for others it has presented barriers and some difficulties, especially when their proficiency in the second language is not to a level that involves a rich emotional vocabulary or understanding of nuances, idioms etc

However, i had a conversation ealrier today that made me reflect at a deeper level on this issue. I went to have lunch at a local cafe within university campus. When i was sitting in a large table, this old man appeared with his plate and asked to sit at my table, given that the place was full and no free tables where available.  I invited him to sit next to me and we started a conversation about what we are doing at University. He must have been over 70 years old, he told me that he is a Sign Language interpreter and, although he had retired, he was still offering interpreting for deaf children and joung people when on call. I told him about my research and we had a fascinating dialogue around language. He told me that he grew up with both his parents being deaf. His parents communicated with him, as their only child (so no siblings to practice speech) with sign language and for that reason he did not speak until the age of 3. He used to spend some time of the day at the neighbour’s house so that he could learn to speak. He said that sign language is like any other language, it has symbols that are different than letters but still a medium to communicate, that is more physical. We agreed on how much we rely on our senses and how much is actually going on at body language level or beyond speech.

He asked me whether i had counselled any deaf person with the assistance of an interpreter. I said no, but did remember when i counselled some clients,  next to an interpreter, when working at a refugee service where clients did not speak english and i could not speak their native language. It was fascinating, both humbling and with its difficulties…it made me realise that attunement and connection can go beyond the ‘tyranny of words’ or speech…this also links to what one of my interviewees said around the use of an expressive arts therapy approach in her work, where she uses english as a second language and her clients may also have english as their second language and it has been useful for them to work through art and rely less on understanding through language

so…where does this leaves us in terms of the use of the term ‘talking therapies’ that is often used in the literature? Language is definitely not the only tool in therapy…the question is how far we can go around letting go of that and allowing more parts of the self and inter-personal contact manifest in the counselling encounter

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