The discrepancy between the growing number of Spanish speakers in the U.S. and the availability of bilingual providers creates a barrier to accessing quality mental health care. Use of interpreters provides one strategy for overcoming this linguistic barrier; however, concerns about whether sessions with interpreters, versus bilingual providers, impede therapeutic alliance remain. The current study explored associations between the use of interpreters and therapeutic alliance in a sample of 458 Spanish-speaking patients seen for integrated behavioral health visits at primary care clinics. Patients completed a brief (4 item) therapeutic alliance scale at their behavioral health appointment. In addition, to supplement the quantitative study data, a pilot study of 30 qualitative interviews was conducted with a new sample of 10 Spanish-speaking patients, 10 behavioral health consultants (BHCs), and 10 trained interpreters. Quantitative results showed that interpreter use did not relate to therapeutic alliance, even when controlling for relevant demographic variables. However, qualitative interviews suggested major themes regarding the relative benefits and challenges of using interpreters for patients, interpreters, and BHCs. In interviews, patients expressed a strong preference for bilingual providers. Benefits included greater privacy, sense of trust, and accuracy of communication. However, in their absence, interpreters were seen as increasing access to services and facilitating communication with providers, thereby addressing the behavioral health needs of patients with limited English proficiency. BHCs and interpreters emphasized the importance of interpreter training and a good collaborative relationship with interpreters to minimize negative effects on the quality of care.
Villalobos, B. T., Bridges, A. J., Anastasia, E. A., Ojeda, C. A., Rodriguez, J. H., & Gomez, D. (2016). Effects of language concordance and interpreter use on therapeutic alliance in Spanish-speaking integrated behavioral health care patients. Psychological services, 13(1), 49–59. https://doi.org/10.1037/ser0000051