Translinguistic Practice with Chinese Immigrants in New York: My Social Work Experience in Mental Health

  • Carol A. Leung University of California, Los Angeles
Keywords: Clinical Practice, Translinguistic Skills, Linguistic Competency, Self-Reflection, Chinese immigrants


A second-generation Chinese American describes and analyzes her experience as a psychiatric social worker in New York City. Her two-year clinical experience as a licensed master social worker (LMSW) with an average caseload of 150 patients who primarily speak Chinese has provided her with four major reflective findings. First, mental illness is strongly connected to the clients’ perception of guilt, shame, and/or perceived wrongdoing. Second, healing is a culturally defined process during the course of therapy, not a final product after therapy. Third, language barrier is a two-way challenge for both the social worker and an immigrant client. Fourth, Asian clients who are present and future-oriented may be less willing to share past experiences. These clinical reflections address the importance of two “translinguistic skills:” overcoming the clinician’s own fear of speaking the patient’s language and helping the clinician hear the patient’s familiar language about life challenges.

Author Biography

Carol A. Leung, University of California, Los Angeles

Carol A. Leung, LMSW, a psychotherapist at the Department of Psychiatry and Addiction Services at the Flushing Hospital Medical Center in Flushing, New York, is currently a social work doctoral candidate at the University of California, Los Angeles. She received her MSSW from the University of Texas at Austin with a specialization in clinical practice.