Bilingual Selves, Language Choice & Emotional Accessibility in Therapy

Researcher: Roberto Parraga-Martin

Supervisors: Dr Anglea Ebert and Dr Ngaire Donaghue

Date: Results will be available August 2012

Background: Research has found that co-ordinate bilinguals(bilinguals who acquire their first language in one culture and a second language in a another culture) acquire a second set of cultural norms. Certain meanings may not directly translate from one language to the other within the individual. This is not so much the case with physical items of the world, but more so with the abstract meanings, including emotional experiences which may differ between one language and another, to the point where a bilingual individual may even feel like being a different person in each language. Co-ordinate bilinguals have the ability to switch between the interpretative lenses (mental representations) of the two cultures, which affects the emotional experience of the individual. It is still not understood what kind of effect these differences in emotional access may have in psychotherapy, where the ability to work with emotions has been found to predict positive therapy outcome. The most basic process required to work with emotions is emotional awareness and arousal because if an emotion is not available to an individual’s awareness it cannot be worked with. If language cues different emotional representations, the language that is employed in therapy may have an effect on the ability of bilinguals to access emotions, thus complicating their ability to process and express emotions. This idea has not been previously investigated with bilinguals and so this study aims to shift the focus away from merely the emotional differences that are experienced between languages, which has been the main aim of most studies until now, and specifically towards better understanding the effect that first and second bilingual languages can have on engaging with emotions in order to then be able to process them, which plays such an important part in therapy.

Study 1: The aim of this study is to explore how emotional accessing is experienced by bilinguals in therapy. As a result of this exploration, core themes of emotional accessing experience will be identified.

Study 2: The aim of Study 2 is to ascertain whether emotional accessing varies between languages within individuals.

Study 3: The aim of Study 3 is to identify which factors best predict the differences in the accessing of emotions between first and second learned languages.