As part of my ongoing academic work in psychotherapy and counselling, gave a lecture and facilitated a seminar on multilingualism, self-experience and psychotherapy, which was titled “The multilingual experience in psychotherapy”
My aim was to show that a person’s ability to use different languages has a profound impact on the way their relationship to themselves and to others, and that it was possible and even indispensable to address this meaningfully in psychotherapy.
In a first part of this lecture, I showed that the process of language acquisition that we go through as infants, toddlers, children and then later as adults is entirely based on relationships: the relationship to self and the relationship to others. By acquiring a language, we learn to relate to ourselves, to the world and to the people around us. And this is something that we learn from the people closest to us. This means that each and every individual word that we use has a story and an emotional charge, and that every time that we use such and such word, we make a connection to the time and place that we learned it and to the person(s) that we learned it from.
In the second part of the lecture I described what it meant for this process to involve more than one language. I showed that the basic principle of language acquisition still applies, and that each language then brings with its own set of experiences, of relationships to self and to others. In summary, I suggested, as I have done in earlier research, that people who speak different languages engage with and manifest different aspects of their self according the the language that they live in at any given time.
I looked in the third part of this lecture at the consequence that this had on the process of psychotherapy for the multilingual individual. I showed through examples that people could use their bilingualism in a defensive manner, to keep painful things at bay, but also to make it possible for them to relate to a part of themselves that would be too painful if experienced in a first language.
The final part of the lecture focused on how multilingualism in the therapeutic relationship, whether it is the multilingualism of the patient, the therapist, or both, deeply affects the way psychotherapy unfolds. I described different ways of working with this meaningfully, and lively discussions ensued with the students I was teaching to challenge and further develop the points I was making about this. This workshop was very well received. I trust it will contribute to the students’ understanding of psychoanalytic psychotherapy, and how this intersects with the phenomenon of multilingualism.
As a psychotherapist in London I am committed to my personal development and research of this kind is essential to my practice, especially given that I practice in French and in English with equal ease.