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Service-users’ experiences of interpreters in psychological therapy: a pilot study

Beverley Costa (Mothertongue Multi-Ethnic Counselling Service, Reading, UK)
Stephen Briggs (Professor of Social Work, based at Cass School of Education and Communities, University of East London, London, UK)

International Journal of Migration, Health and Social Care

ISSN: 1747-9894

Article publication date: 9 December 2014




Working across languages is playing an increasingly important role in the delivery of mental health services, notably through psychotherapy and psychological therapies. Growing awareness of the complex processes that ensue in working across languages, including the presence and role of an interpreter, is generating new conceptualisations of practice, but there is a need now to evidence how these impact on service users. The paper aims to discuss these issues.


This paper discusses the model for working with interpretation developed by Mothertongue multi-ethnic counselling service, which conceptualises the therapeutic process as working within triangular relationships consisting of service user, therapist and interpreter. Second, the paper discusses the qualitative, practice-near methods applied in, and findings from a pilot study to evaluate the interpreter's role.


Three patterns of response to interpreters were identified: negative impacts on the therapy, the interpreter as conduit for therapy and the therapist and interpreter jointly demonstrating a shared enterprise. It is concluded that the method and findings of the pilot justify a larger study that will further evaluate the experiences of service users and continue to develop and test conceptualisations for best practice.


Working across languages is now recognised as an increasingly important aspect of therapy in contexts where migration has created new demographics. This paper contributes to the discussion of working therapeutically with people with mental health difficulties across languages. Its originality lies, first, in the discussion of a new clinical approach to working with interpreters, and second in the methods used to access the views of service users about their experiences of interpreters.



The authors would like to thank Talking Therapies Berkshire Healthcare NHS Trust (IAPT) for agreeing to participate in this study and for their excellent administrative support. The authors also thank Tiina Eiola's students from Queen Mary, University of London, who conducted the interviews, and to Kids Company who provided the venue for the training day. The authors are very grateful to the patients who agreed to give up their time to be interviewed and to allow them to learn from their experiences.


Costa, B. and Briggs, S. (2014), "Service-users’ experiences of interpreters in psychological therapy: a pilot study", International Journal of Migration, Health and Social Care, Vol. 10 No. 4, pp. 231-244.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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