Our emotional experiences are understood and processed through language. But what happens when people speak more than one language? If English is your second language or if you grew up in a household where a language other than English was spoken, chances are that some of your emotional experiences are coded in that language. And this can affect your experience in therapy…
It happens in the middle of conversations with friends, coworkers, or even strangers. You’re talking to someone and, all of the sudden, piensas en algo en otro idioma. You think of something in another language. You pause for a moment as you try to evaluate whether or not there is an exact translation, what that translation is, and how to effectively translate it to English. If this happens during our day-to-day interactions with others, it is bound to happen during a therapy session as well.
Research has found that psychotherapy in one’s native, non-English language is twice as effective as English-only therapy. This is because the simple act of communicating in your non-English language can be extremely helpful in processing and understanding certain feelings, ideas, and experiences. It also enables you to talk more freely and spontaneously, allowing for more fluid expression without needing to pause and translate before speaking.
If you’re multilingual, it is worth considering finding a therapist who is open to having you speak another language in the psychotherapy room. Ideally, your therapist would be someone who can speak and understand that language, though this is certainly not required. Sharing a thought or feeling in your non-English language first, then translating it to English can also be effective.
No two people’s experience of language will be the same. For some, having psychotherapy that is 100% in their non-English language is best. Others may prefer having the majority of their therapy sessions in English, with the flexibility to occasionally speak in their non-English language. Together, you and your therapist can discuss the type of language expression that makes the most sense for you.