Interactions and mediation between multilingual clients and their psychotherapist


  • Jean-Marc Dewaele
  • Beverley Costa
  • Louise Rolland
  • Sally Cook



Mediation, Psychoanalysis


The editors pointed out that all interactions require some degree of mediation. In other words, a common ground needs to be established on which communication can be based, and when difficulties emerge mediation will be required. In this paper, we will argue that there are contexts where the assumption of common ground is stronger or weaker depending on the training, experience and disciplinary background of those involved in the interaction. The need for mediation may thus be greater in contexts where the assumption of common ground is over-optimistic, and where the consequences of not spotting the potential misunderstanding, and hence skipping mediation, may be serious.  Language professionals are very much aware of variation in language proficiency and are less likely to assume complete common ground with fluent Foreign Language (LX) users than professionals from other backgrounds for whom language is merely a technical tool that does not merit special attention. Thus, considering an interlocutor who can talk easily about the weather in an LX, a Foreign Language teacher is less likely to assume complete linguistic common ground than a psychotherapist whose main concern is to locate the source of a client’s issues.  The language teacher has been taught that students may have linguistic and cultural gaps that are not immediately apparent and that meaning may need to be negotiated in the classroom. The psychotherapist has been trained to try to understand the client’s worldview, but frequently that training ignores their clients’ linguistic profiles and experiences. Negotiation about meanings and across differences and power differentials, which goes to the heart of psychotherapeutic communication, often ignores the linguistic gap.  In particular, psychotherapists (especially monolingual ones) may be less aware that multilinguals can have different levels of proficiency in different discourse domains (Grosjean, 2016). In other words, the ability to converse fluently in the LX about certain everyday topics does not necessarily imply an ability to convey subtle, complex emotions in that language. Clients themselves may be unaware of this. 

The aim of the present paper is therefore to highlight the need for extra awareness among psychotherapists about both visible and invisible linguistic and cultural obstacles to emotion communication that will require mediation with their LX clients, using appropriate strategies.




How to Cite

Dewaele, J.-M., Costa, B., Rolland, L. ., & Cook, S. (2020). Interactions and mediation between multilingual clients and their psychotherapist. Babylonia Multilingual Journal of Language Education, 3(1).