Rethinking interpreter functions in mental health services

Doris F. Chang, Elaine Hsieh, William B. Somerville, Jon Dimond, Monica Thomas, Andel Nicasio, Marit Boiler, Roberto Lewis-Fernández

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Interpreters improve access to care for patients with limited English proficiency (LEP), but some studies have reported poorer cultural understanding, relationship quality, and patient satisfaction than with language-concordant care. Use of interpreter roles beyond linguistic conversion (clarifier, cultural broker, or advocate/mediator) may enhance interpreter-mediated care by improving cultural understanding and the therapeutic alliance. As reported in this column, pilot data on interpreter-mediated evaluations of 25 psychiatric outpatients with LEP support this position. The authors found that clarification of the interpreter's role and the session structure improved provider-interpreter collaboration, with two perceived benefits: improved assessment through elicitation of clinically relevant information and stronger therapeutic alliance through “emotion work.” Strategies for effectively enhancing provider-interpreter collaboration are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)353-357
Number of pages5
JournalPsychiatric Services
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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