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Living in Two Languages: A Bilingual Couple Therapist's Experience of Working in the Mother Tongue

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This paper describes the clinical experience of a bilingual therapist with a bilingual couple who presented with difficulties around their sexual intimacy and requested that therapy be carried out in their shared Greek mother tongue. The work was conducted in an English external linguistic environment. The paper shows that the use of the mother tongue can facilitate a linguistic connectedness which goes beyond the actual words used during the couple therapy session and extends further into their metaphorical and symbolic meaning. Clinical material from the initial meeting illustrates how some early attachment experiences and memory traces were emotionally and linguistically enhanced by being carried out in the mother tongue. It highlights how the intrinsic cultural and linguistic associations can begin to be understood and clinically addressed within that framework. The linguistic phenomenon of ‘language independence’ - the simultaneous access into and proficient use of the therapist's two separate language systems - is shown to have had a profound impact on the clinical work and on understanding powerful countertransference processes in the therapy.
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Keywords: bilingual; countertransference enactment; couple therapy; language independence; mother tongue; psychosexual therapy

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 April 2011

More about this publication?
  • Couple and Family Psychoanalysis Journal is a new international journal sponsored by the Bristish Society of Couple Psychotherapists and Counsellors, the Professional Association of the Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships and aims to promote the theory and practice of working with couple and family relationships from a psychoanalytic perspective. It seeks to provide a forum for disseminating current ideas and research and for developing clinical practice.
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