There are times when I am blessed with a non-English speaking client and it is usually a bitter-sweet experience. I say that I am blessed with these clients because I always look forward to the times when I get to meet new people through my work experience, does not matter if they speak English or not! However, the experience is bitter-sweet as communication can be difficult.
I utilize an interpreter (via telephone), and while I am grateful for a service provider that can be available whenever I need it, it can be frustrating at times. Besides the fact that your call can get disconnected, I find it difficult to maintain eye contact with the client as I try to speak to the interpreter.
Eye contact is important, says a lot and means a lot in a therapeutic setting. Strong eye contact can mean they are engaged, understand what you are saying, aware and focused, to name a few. Minimal to no eye contact can indicate an internal struggle, shame, guilt, avoidance, deception, to name a few.
When using an interpreter, you are encouraged to maintain eye contact with your client, not the interpreter. You should continue observing the client’s body language and look for non-verbals. However, I find myself trying to make more eye contact with the telephone and less with the client!
I decided to pay closer attention to what happens during the session when using an interpreter and one thing stood out for me: the client mirrored my behavior. They would look at the phone when I did, but if I happen to remember to make eye contact with them while talking to the interpreter, they also made eye contact with me when responding.
An interpreter provides a valuable service as they help you to understand what your client is saying and allows the client’s words to be interpreted. An interpreter acts as a guide throughout the session. I certainly value their service. Since I do not use an interpreter frequently, it always seems like a new challenge when the need arises. However, it is important to remember that the client is the main focus in the session.
If you have used or frequently use an interpreter I would love to hear your experience.