Mental Health Counseling and Interpreting: Can OPI Work?

on site interpreter

Mental Health Counseling and Interpreting: Can OPI Work?

Over-the-phone interpretation (OPI) is widely used in medical facilities. With OPI, healthcare organizations have a quick, reliable way to communicate with limited English proficiency (LEP) patients, ensuring critical information is accurately relayed. However, does that mean OPI can work in mental health counseling sessions?

In the United States, an estimated 51.5 million adults have some form of diagnosable mental health condition, including many LEP individuals. Often, counseling is a core part of treatment plans, ensuring patients can get critical guidance and support.

Mental health counseling sessions are unique within the medical field, often involving nuances that you don’t typically see in traditional health-related appointments. If you’re wondering whether OPI is appropriate for mental health appointments or group counseling sessions, here’s what you need to know.

The Challenges of Using OPI for Mental Health Counseling Sessions

While over-the-phone interpreting is sufficient for many medical appointments, OPI isn’t necessarily the best fit for mental health counseling. Often, the conversations that occur are highly nuanced. Additionally, trust is a major factor in success during these sessions.

When you use OPI services, the interpreter isn’t able to observe nonverbal cues or body language. While this can be inconvenient during standard medical discussions, it’s incredibly problematic during mental health counseling sessions.

During OPI, the odds of misinterpretations are much higher without visual cues, hindering the conversation. Additionally, mistakes may harm the sense of trust, which can be catastrophic when assisting patients with mental health challenges.

In some cases, mental health patients may be more prone to confusion, frustration, or agitation. Not only is the interpreter unable to see signs that a participant may be struggling, but any missteps that occur can exacerbate an already challenging situation.

Ultimately, OPI isn’t a good fit for mental health counseling sessions. Generally, OPI should be viewed as an option of last resort in these situations, as other approaches are a far better fit.

Which Interpreting Approaches Are Best for Mental Health Counseling

Since nonverbal cues and body language are vital when interpreting during mental health counseling sessions, on-site interpretation (OSI) is typically best. When the interpreter and all session participants are in the same space, the face-to-face nature of the arrangement ensures they aren’t missing any crucial context. As a result, they’ll be better equipped to adapt to shifts in mood and mental state, making them a more powerful part of the equation.

Along with cues from patients, they’ll also be able to observe the counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist guiding the appointment with ease. That can make it easier for the interpreter to adjust their approach to maintain a sense of alignment, ensuring the conversation remains cohesive.

If OSI isn’t an option, video remote interpretation (VRI) is the next best choice. With VRI, interpreters can observe facial expressions, along with some other body language. They’ll be able to adapt based on various nonverbal cues, making them more effective in their role.

However, since they can’t see more than the camera allows, it falls a bit short of what’s available with OSI interpretation. For example, larger gestures may not end up in the frame. While the interpreter may see general movement, the whole motion isn’t observable, potentially causing an important detail to be missed.

Additionally, depending on the layout created by the online conferencing platform, the video itself may not be ideal. If the screen shows multiple participants simultaneously, the individual video areas may be quite small. If the screen shifts to enlarge the video of the person speaking, then the interpreter can’t see cues from those who are listening well, if at all.

Finally, technical issues with video can arise. Lagging, pixelation, freezing, and similar problems can occur. When that happens, the interpreter may miss a critical visual cue because it didn’t come through correctly.

Similarly, sound issues may cause part of the conversation to cut out. Regardless of who’s speaking, this creates challenges for all participants. Someone has to notify the speaker that their audio feed broke up and ask them to repeat what they shared, disrupting the flow and potentially increasing frustration among participants.

As mentioned above, OPI should be considered an option of last resort. If OSI or VRI aren’t options, over-the-phone interpreting is better than nothing. However, when possible, on-site interpretation should always be the favored approach, with video remote interpreting coming in a somewhat distant second.

Do You Need a Medical Interpreter for Mental Health Counseling Sessions?

Whether you’re meeting with individuals or groups, having a professional medical interpreter for your mental health counseling sessions is essential. At Acutrans, our medical interpreters all complete extensive training and are HIPAA-compliant. Additionally, our certified medical interpreters are well-versed in medical terminology, healthcare information, and patient confidentiality best practices, making them a valuable resource.

If you require dependable interpretation services, Acutrans can help. Acutrans provides on-site, video remote, and over-the-phone services in over 200 languages along with certified, notarized medical translations. If you need an interpreter, the Acutrans team can offer a reliable, professional solution. Contact us for a free quote today.