The Multi-lingual Psychotherapy Centre emerged in the 1990’s from a group of psychotherapists who came together weekly to read psychoanalytic papers. This group was on-going for five years and eventually formed Imago-MLPC as t became clear that there was a common theme in the group related to being international both culturally and linguistically. Gradually a recurring theme emerged, not related to the psychoanalytic studies posing the question of our identity, the group’s identity. So we embarked on a social dreaming session with Gordon Lawrence.
Houses in search of a home
The most powerful result of those sessions was that we all dreamt of houses:
Houses made of cardboard, corner houses, inside out houses, back to front houses, houses that were split … Houses in search of a home, a joint home, a common home, a shared home?
Dreaming Together was a Turning point, as at that point we became a collective and a set of individuals who were dreaming about finding ourselves together in London but from different parts of the world. What sort of house was this that we were unconsciously sharing and living in? This house was obviously one of cultural and linguistic diversity, of immigration and emigration, of being lost and being found, of difference and otherness.
Inaugural Lecture December 1997
Our inaugural lecture entitled ‘Displacement: Psychotherapy in my father’s language’ was given in December 1997. These became known as the Burgh House Lectures. We have had 40 lectures since and organised three conferences in the last 18 years and published a book.
Our aim has become modest which i.e. to arrange up to 3 lectures a year and a conference possibly every 3-4 years, as we are a skeletal Executive Committee doing this work voluntarily and always looking for new members.
The Executive committee is made up of Psychoanalytic, Jungian and Integrative psychotherapists. Our meetings are always interesting as we are constantly remembering or discussing an aspect of the multi-lingual experience either in our clinical work or in culture i.e. films, plays politics and everyday happenings. The lectures over the years have thrown up many ideas and thoughts. The lectures invite people to free associate rather than taking on the formalities of a scientific paper. Some of the thoughts and ideas that come to mind are for example
Some Ideas and Thoughts through the Years
a. How do we experience and use our mother tongue when we are living in a second learnt language. What happens to it and how does it affect our learning of a second language. Is our emotional compass always in our original language? How do we think about this clinically?
b. What is the relationship between your clinical language and your original language, which may be different? How is intimacy spoken or represented in different languages?
c. What do we do when there are no words in the new language, which we can easily find in our mother tongue? Are we faced with loss, limitation, creativity or just an awareness of being outside?
d. How do we live ‘in between’ languages, betwixt and between as one speaker put it? Neither here nor there, always between, always moving where there is no sense of belonging.
e. Where is the language of the father and how it is different from the mother’s language? What happens to a child who lives in father’s country but has a mother who speaks a foreign language? What is this like for the child who learns the language of the father’s culture as a first language as s/he grows up?
f. One speaker wondered why it was so easy to swear in a learnt second language and how difficult it was to swear in the mother tongue. Somehow the second language freed her up but was it that easy or was it to do with a lack of emotional attachment?
g. Others spoke of how the mother tongue was the forbidden language or the language they needed to get away from as it was too limiting, or painful. They put themselves in exile but somehow still carried this with them and needed ultimately to return to and think about their own exile.
h. Maybe exile provides new possibilities unavailable in your original country and emotional language. Maybe it offered you perspective and an ability to think about your emotional life.
I. And yet there was always a thought that culture and language precedes us for many generations and that we carry the emotional atmosphere of our culture of birth throughout our lives and even though we move away and build new lives and create new cultures and learn new languages as well as creating new languages, our generational heritage always accompanies us in our new perspective and learning and never actually leaves us despite our best efforts. Somehow words are only traces of something much more – a collective home that we know about in our cultural histories and to which we add, even though we may not be able to put it into words too clearly. The unconscious never sleeps.