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mental health professional comforting patient

Mental health care relies heavily on verbal communication, but what if your patient’s primary language isn’t English? Limited-English proficient (LEP) patients often encounter language barriers that can interfere with their diagnoses and treatment. It’s crucial for healthcare providers to use qualified interpreters that help them communicate effectively.

Let’s go over tips to help you simplify your behavioral health interpretation sessions and deliver a positive patient experience.

Choose on-site or video-remote interpretation

Healthcare professionals often pay close attention to their patient’s physical and verbal behavior to gain insight into their needs. However, if you speak a different language than your patient, you’ll need to find other ways to gather information. If the interpreter is in the same room or can see the patient via video, they can contribute context inaccessible over the phone.

Example: An interpreter’s disembodied voice on the phone can be confusing and disorienting for mental health patients. By choosing on-site or video-remote interpretation, the patient can see the person helping them communicate with your staff.

Start with a pre-session discussion with your interpreter

Whenever possible, take a few minutes to orient the interpreter with the goals of the session, any pertinent background information, or special techniques you may use. Remember that once the session starts, the interpreter is ethically obligated to convey everything said.

Example: Interpreters typically maintain a “conduit” role so that communication can flow freely and act as if they aren’t involved in the conversation. However, if the patient is in a mental state where they lack clarity, they may be disoriented by an interpreter speaking in the first person. With additional context, the interpreter can adapt their approach to avoid confusion.

Navigate cultural differences when discussing mental health

Beyond converting one language into another, interpreters may describe differences between cultures. A qualified interpreter can describe cultural differences, explain concepts that may be unfamiliar, and help you adapt to the LEP patient’s needs.

Example: Behavioral healthcare providers discuss symptoms of emotional, behavioral, or mental disorders daily, but it may be uncommon or difficult for the patient. Some languages lack descriptive vocabulary related to mental health. Your interpreter may ask for additional context to help them modify your words into the patient’s language.

Additional Resources

Do you need access to qualified interpreters?

We can help. Contact us at to learn more.


Lindsay Lawson

Lindsay Lawson

An experienced researcher, writer, and editor on language services-related topics, specializing in interpreting and translation services, how language works.