Treating mental health disorders is no easy task. For many mental health clinicians, treating patients who do not carry English as their primary language can be even more challenging. In fact, for bilingual patients, often, it is very difficult to express symptoms and complaints clearly due to not only language discrepancies but also variations within and among cultures.
For many clinics, in the larger American cities, mental health services are available to the population and demographic most unique to that cities make-up. However, in these same metropolitan cities, often, there are minority patients who do not find mental health services easily accessible and acceptable based on their cultural beliefs. When these conflicts arise, within the mental health clinic setting, often, the use of translators becomes necessary.
Bilingual translators, for the most part, offer a great service to the community they serve. In the mental health setting, however, there can be significant complications when using an untrained bilingual translator to aide a mental health patient through recovery. Often, clinicians will scurry to recruit a bilingual translator from any source and, unfortunately, may not be someone who is well versed in psychotherapy or psychoanalysis.
So, what complications arise when a clinic uses an untrained bilingual translator? Because expressions of language are quite different from one language to another, the untrained bilingual translator often, when used in a clinical setting, will apply their own subjective view and interpretation to the words spoken by the patient. When this is then translated into the language of the psychotherapist, the meaning and interpretation may be lost, to some extent.
In addition, the untrained mental health assistant may relay treatment and health questions and responses incorrectly back to the patient. Often, when not trained in traditional medicine or psychotherapy, the untrained mental health assistant will create their own interpretation when information is received from a clinician and, in return, relay that same inappropriate information to the bilingual patient.
When necessary, mental health professionals should limit the use of untrained bilingual translators in the intake and interview process. Once the bilingual mental health patient begins therapy, other arrangements should be made to care for the bilingual patient and provide psychotherapy is the most conducive setting possible for that patient’s particular language.
As with any mental health complication, finding not only the right diagnosis and treatment is important but also finding a clinician or mental health therapist who can relate to the patient, objectively, in the same language and context. Without this bilingual support, the mental health patient may lose significant opportunities for improvement of mental health complications.