20 SES 14, Inclusion and Different Kinds of Learning and Recovery
This project focused on the ways in which recognising and supporting the use of native languages within mental health recovery services (UK charity MIND) can have positive effects on the people’s sense of identity, self-esteem and confidence, therefore enhancing their overall well-being. It involved bi/multilingual participants in writing personal narratives of mental health recovery in two languages (home and English) to capture (and share) personal memories and journeys towards recovery. Participants engaged in 10-weeks course and gained an accredited educational qualification titled Creative History.
Working with MIND service users who come from migrant communities we realised that the experience of emigration and difficulties related to the one’s own ability to express herself/himself fully in a foreign language can lead to development or maintenance of mental health issues such as depression, anxiety or other more serious/deeper problems.
This project aimed to validate the use of home languages as a valuable tool – not only linguistic but also a tool that can support mental health recovery through confidence and self-esteem building.
Therefore, our research question was: ‘Can narrating own story of mental health recovery in mother tongue and English be a therapeutic endeavour?’ This broad question led to the following sub-questions: ‘What impact can bilingual writing have on the participants’ overall confidence, self-esteem and well-being?’, ‘Does it help them in meaning-making and, in turn, lead to a positive (re)construction of identity (or its elements)?’
There is pressure on newcomer migrants to gain proficiency in English and the use of native languages in the work placements/various institutions is often discouraged. As Imberti (2007) explains, the change in language used affects people’s worldview and their identities get transformed. Migrants often must find ways to express themselves in their new/additional language and the way in which their experiences and emotional reactions are encoded becomes more complex (Costa & Dewaele, 2012). One way to cope with this complexity is to ‘split’ and create ‘new selves’ for each of the languages spoken. ‘Splitting’ (a psychoanalytic concept) encapsulates the process of separating difficult emotions and experiences to defend from pain. Splitting can serve a protective function helping people ‘exploit the different linguistic registers as a means for organising and expressing themselves’ (Amati-Mehler, 1993, p.264). However, it can also lead to conscious or unconscious language switching to achieve distancing and disconnecting from one’s own emotions and experiences.
Bi/multilingual immigrants often report feeling and acting differently in their second/additional languages (Pavlenko, 2006; Wilson, 2008; Ozanska-Ponikwa, 2011). Dewaele and Nakano (2012) found a systematic shift (across languages) with bilinguals feeling less logical, less serious, less emotional and increasingly fake when using languages acquired later in life.
Intense emotions from formative early years are encoded in the native language (Harris, 2006) and expression of emotions and experiences from early childhood can also more effective in the native language. However, it has also been noted that certain feelings, concepts or experiences can be expressed in another language in a way that would not be allowed in the native language (Costa & Dewaele, 2012). Tehrani & Vaughan (2009) suggest that language switching in therapy can be particularly useful. On one hand, the most significant factor in increasing the quality and emotional content of the recalled experience is the language and context in which the experience was encoded. On the other hand, language switching in therapy can increase emotional mastery – through exploration of the past problems in a new light aided by a new language.
The above findings led us to consider the benefits of narrating personal stories in two languages to aid bilinguals meaning making of their journeys towards mental health recovery.
This project adopted an Action Research approach – although there was a plan of 10 weeks delivery of Creative History course, it continued to be refined and tailored to the needs of the participants – we observed, reflected on every session and planned/designed the following sessions in way that was responsive to the group dynamics, the needs of individual learners and the setting. Alongside the practical delivery, the team conducted a mixed-method research study, which was ethically approved by the Psychology Research Ethics Committee at the University of Bedfordshire. It comprised of a set of questionnaires (one for bilingual participants) and one for the University students who were engaged in the project delivery. The measures were repeated (at the beginning of the delivery of the clubs and at the end of the programme) to ensure any changes can be captured. There was also an element of evaluation of the project, required by the Heritage Lottery Fund Qualitative part of the study took form of individual interviews (at the end of the project). These interviews had double aim: - To collect some more-in-depth qualitative data about the experience of bilingual writing and its impact for the participants, and - To be used (with permission) as promotional material for the future projects The interviews will be analysed using thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006). This presentation will focus on results from MIND service users with regard to the above mentioned research questions.
At this stage the project data collection is on-going and we are only able to make some early predictions. By writing bilingual stories of personal mental health recovery, our participants are likely to reach out to various forms of historic written records (e.g. statistics about mental health issues' prevalence in their own communities including historic articles and artefacts describing a particular mental health condition or relating back to resources that helped them in their personal journeys in mental health recovery). The project is aimed to increase participants’ communication skills and elevate confidence and self-esteem of the individuals taking part and will break down language barriers in historic cultures and beliefs. Participants’ stories will be captured, produced in designed publications to enhance the knowledge of local communities and the wider public in personal journeys of individuals’ experience of mental health and their passage, past to present. We hope to see some difference in terms of the participants’ self-perception (their self-esteem, confidence and overall-wellbeing) captured in the post-programme date collection. We hope that through participating in this project and achieving both a Creative History qualification and a publication of own narrative, participants’ self-belief and confidence will increase and therefore the participation will be therapeutic for them. We hope to be able to showcase that participating in such projects can help people in meaning-making, and, in turn, lead to a positive (re)construction of identity or its elements. It is envisaged that lessons will be learned from the first phase of the project to improve the programme for the following years and expand it to other service users.
Amati-Mehler, J., Argentieri, S., & Canestri, J. (1993). The Babel of the unconscious: Mother tongue and foreign languages in the psychoanalytic dimension. Madison, CT: International Universities Press. Costa, B.; Dewaele, J.-M. (2012). Psychotherapy across languages: beliefs, attitudes and practices of monolingual and multilingual therapists with their multilingual patients. Language and Psychoanalysis 1, pp.18-40 Dewaele, J-M. & Nakano, S. (2012). Multilinguals' perceptions of feeling different when switching languages, Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development,. DOI:10.1080/01434632.2012.712133 Imberti, P. (2007) Who Resides Behind the Words? Exploring and Understanding the Language Experience of the Non-English-Speaking Immigrant. Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Social Services: Vol. 88, No. 1, pp. 67-73. Oz˙an´ska-Ponikwia, K. 2012. What has personality and emotional intelligence to do with ‘feeling different’ while using a foreign language? International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism 15, no. 2: 217 34. Pavlenko, A. (2006). Bilingual minds: Emotional experience, expression, and representation.). Clevedon: Multilingual Matters Robson (1989). Development of a new self-report questionnaire to measure self-esteem. Psychological Medicine, 19, 513-518. Tehrani, N. & Vaughan, S. (2009). Lost in translation – using bilingual differences to increase emotional mastery following bullying. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, 9 doi: 10.1080/14733140802656131. Wilson, R.J. 2008. ‘Another language is another soul’: Individual differences in the presentation of self in a foreign language. PhD diss., Birkbeck College, University of London.
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