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Dearnley, B. (2014). Psychotherapy in Translation: One Clinician's Experience of Working with Interpreters. Cpl. Fam. Psychoanal., 4(2):186-192.

(2014). Couple and Family Psychoanalysis, 4(2):186-192

Psychotherapy in Translation: One Clinician's Experience of Working with Interpreters

Barbara Dearnley

In my retirement from the Tavistock Marital Studies Institute, I am working as a volunteer marital psychotherapist with the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture.1 This name, albeit cumbersome, is self-explanatory. The clients are mostly refugees, from most parts of the world, with manifold problems, few speak English and 80% require an interpreter if therapy is to take place. This is an account of one new aspect of my work.

My professional problem is that I now have a shaky reliance on one of the tools of my trade. From experience and training I have long used, and come to rely on, transference and countertransference experience as a diagnostic tool that amplifies the information that the patient is giving me verbally and non-verbally, consciously and unconsciously. When this experience of a growing relationship with a client is mediated via another, the interpreter, I feel the waters are clouded, indeed sometimes muddied. In my private practice with English-speaking clients, I feel more surefooted and clearer about the transference and countertransference implications and where I might be going with clients. I am used, in my marital work, to experience partners directly through my own senses, and also the perception of the partner's experience of their partner. A jig-saw of perceptions at the best of times, but I do have the professional sanction to comment on this and verbally to explore and elucidate one partner's perception of the other, especially when it is radically different from mine.

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