Employing Bourdieu’s Sociological Concepts to Investigate the Experiences of Interpreters within Mental Health Settings

Abdullah Al-Anezi

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


This research aims to explore the experiences of professional interpreters who have worked in mental health service settings in the UK. Literature on mental health interpreting, which is limited so far, has focused mainly on interpreters’ roles and dynamics as well as the emotional impact on their work. However, little attention has been paid to the social dimension of encounters between mental health professionals, clients, and interpreters. The utilisation of Bourdieu’s social theory of practice (1977, 1986, 1990) is deemed suitable for understanding the field of mental health interpreting.
The study uses qualitative methodology rooted in interpretivist epistemology. Semi-structured interviews have been held with ten UK-based professional interpreters who have worked with mental health services. Using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (Smith, 2009) as a research tool, four major themes have been identified: interpreters’ assumed roles, dynamics within the therapeutic triad, looking at the bright side, and challenges in the way.
The key concepts of Bourdieu’s social theory have been used as a theoretical framework to understand the findings of the study. The field of practice in mental health interpreting relies heavily on ‘trust’ as a currency to build rapport within dyads. That field seems ‘daunting’ for interpreters, especially the newly qualified ones. Interpreters have developed professional and emotional habitus in addition to the imposed one. The doxa of mental health interpreting is one in which an interpreter adheres to a ‘voice-machine” role. The cultural capital (e.g. qualifications, languages) was found to be the interpreters’ major assets in the field. Despite the low pay, some participants describe mental health interpreting as a ‘rewarding’ job.
This study concludes that interpreters occupy a marginalised position despite their useful role in mental health services. This thesis contributes to the body of knowledge as the first to date to apply a sociological theoretical framework, i.e., Bourdieu’s theory, to understand the field of practice of mental health interpreting. Apart from the interpreters, it has implications for mental health service providers and users. This study advocates a strong model based on trust and understanding for better team working between interpreters and mental health professionals that can lead to more effective therapeutic processes.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Keating, Frank, Supervisor
  • Evans, Tony, Supervisor
Award date1 Apr 2023
Publication statusUnpublished - 10 Dec 2021


  • IPA
  • Mental Health
  • Interpreting
  • Interpreters
  • Bourdieu
  • field
  • habitus
  • capital

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