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Working effectively with spoken language interpreters

Beverley Costa, Joanna Mungai

24 Apr 2024


The 2021 Census in the UK revealed that 880,000 people cannot speak English well and 161,000 people cannot speak English at all. This means that just over one million people cannot speak English well enough to access psychological therapy in English.  Furthermore, many patients and therapists in the UK communicate together in English as a lingua franca when it is not their first language. Despite these statistics, the topics of multilingualism and interpreter-mediated psychological therapies have seldom been covered in the original training of psychological therapists or clinical supervisors. However, training to work with interpreters and the multilingual experience is an active component to becoming an anti-oppressive, anti-racist clinician or a racial ally (Williams et al., 2022). 

The event will be equivalent to 2.3/4hrs of CPD.


Without training therapists feel unprepared and unsupported to incorporate an interpreter into their therapeutic relationship. Clients who need a spoken language1 interpreter are often left for long periods of time on waiting lists until a therapist can be found who is prepared to work with them. Drawing on evidence from the latest research, this training considers how to work collaboratively with interpreters; the nature and impact of the therapeutic material; contrasting models of practice and professional values; the therapeutic frame, ethical decision making and the unconscious pulls and pushes when working in a triadic relationship.

Although there are many shared principles when working with sign language interpreters, the focus of the training is working with spoken language interpreters. The NHS Guidelines for Working with British Sign Language/English Interpreters in Mental Health Settings ( for-working-with-BSL-01.19.pdf) contains more specific guidelines.

We also explore our fears and ways in which we can build up our confidence to be bold in the therapeutic room with our clients and to put into practice, through working effectively with interpreters, the values we espouse of anti-racist practice and allyship.

Learning Objectives

By the end of the training participants will:

• Be more confident and even enthusiastic about working effectively with a spoken language interpreter.
• Be more knowledgeable and able to negotiate issues of power and safety in a ‘triad’ with reference to boundaries, communication, power dynamics and relationships with both patient & interpreter.
• Have learned techniques for maintaining their clinical authority when they don’t understand the language(s) spoken in the room.

Training Modalities

The training is highly experiential and includes script-reading, creative writing, excerpts from films and opportunities for typed questions. It draws on the latest research from across the disciplines of Applied Linguistics and Psychotherapy and incorporates the online learning resource on multilingualism and psychological therapies available at:  
or in a more user-friendly format at:

The training includes a question-and-answer session with an interpreter.

Key References

Costa, B. & Briggs, S. (2014) Service-users’ experiences of interpreters in psychological therapy: a pilot study International Journal of Migration, Health and Social Care, 10:4 , 231-244 DOI 10.1108/IJMHSC-12-2013-0044.

Costa, B. (2020) Other Tongues ─ psychological therapies in a multilingual world. A guide for qualified practitioners, trainers and supervisors. Monmouth. PCCS Books.

Costa, B. (2022). Interpreter-mediated CBT – a practical implementation guide for working with spoken language interpreters. The Cognitive Behaviour Therapist, 15, E8. doi:10.1017/S1754470X2200006X

Gryesten, J. R., Brodersen, K. J., Lindberg, L. G., Carlsson, J., & Poulsen, S. (2021). Interpreter-mediated psychotherapy – a qualitative analysis of the interprofessional collaboration between psychologists and interpreters. Current Psychology: A Journal for Diverse Perspectives on Diverse Psychological Issues. Advance online publication.

Hanft-Robert S, Lindberg LG, Mösko M and Carlsson J (2023) A balancing act: how interpreters affect the therapeutic alliance in psychotherapy with trauma-affected refugees—a qualitative study with therapists. Front. Psychol. 14:1175597. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2023.1175597

Mahdavi, E. G., Due, C., Walsh, M., & Ziersch, A. (2023, February 23). Service Providers’ Experiences of Interpreter Assisted Mental Health Care for People with Refugee Backgrounds. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice. Advance online publication.

Tribe, R. and Thompson, K. (2017). Working with interpreters: Guidelines for psychologists. The British Psychological Society.

About the presenter

Beverley Costa grew up in a multilingual and cross-cultural family. After qualifying as a psychotherapist, she set up Mothertongue multi-ethnic counselling service (2000-2018) for multilingual clients. In 2009 she created a pool of mental health interpreters, in 2010 she established the national Bilingual Therapist and Mental Health Interpreter Forum and founded The Pásalo Project in 2017 to disseminate learning from Mothertongue. In 2013, Beverley established “Colleagues Across Borders” offering support to refugee psychosocial workers and interpreters based mainly in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. She is a Senior Practitioner Fellow at Birkbeck, University of London and has written several research papers and chapters. In 2023 she was granted the title Senior Visiting Research Fellow in the School of Arts and Communication Design at the University of Reading. She won the 2013 British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, Equality and Diversity Research Award with Jean-Marc Dewaele.

She has delivered training to over 5,000 clinicians in the NHS and NGOs in the UK and in Europe and she has run supervision and case discussion groups for statutory and voluntary sector health and social care organisations for the past two decades. Her book Other Tongues -psychological therapies in a multilingual world was published in 2020 by PCCS Books.

Joanna Mungai qualified with an MA in Psychology and worked as a Clinical Psychologist in Poland. In the UK she began her career as an interpreter through working for a charity called Mothertongue among others and specialised in interpreting within mental health settings. In 2019-2022 she was working as an in-house interpreter for Talking Therapies NHS. She has a wealth of experience in interpreting for psychological therapies, the social services, schools, medical and court settings.

Who should attend

This event is suitable for those working with adults, children and young people. It is for trainee and experienced health and social care practitioners and for clinical supervisors who may supervise practitioners who work with interpreters. It has been successfully delivered to low and high intensity practitioners, psychologists, psychiatrists, nurse therapists, counsellors, social workers and speech and language therapists.

Low Intensity clinical contact hours survey - BABCP Low Intensity Special Interest Group

Please click below if you are interested in contributing to the survey.


The BACP Low Intensity SIG are interested in the impact of clinical contact hours on Low Intensity/Wellbeing Practitioner wellbeing. This questionnaire contains six multi-choice questions and a free text box for you to share your experiences. The answers to these questions will help the BABCP SIG plan how to meet CPD topics and other developments within the SIG.  The SIG hope to produce a write up of the answers to this questionnaire to be shared with SIG members and to be used in training.

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This FREE conference is for Psychological Wellbeing Practitioners working in Talking Therapies for Anxiety and Depression services and is brought to you by Bespoke Mental Health in collaboration with the NHS England Talking Therapies National PWP Leads Network

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