Translation is way of analyzing, understanding and describing a larger process in GA, and could include several levels, both primordial, projective, transference and the here and now, relating both to the vertical and horizontal dimension of existence of the group as a whole. This would include elements of contextual relations. As a technical term Translation often includes both (re)construction and interpretation.
The roots of the term consist of the word trans that is a Latin noun or prefix, meaning “across”, “beyond” or “on the opposite side”, and lation that is Latin for “state or quality”. Translation has a number of possible meanings according to the Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries:
• To change the form, condition, nature, etc., of; transform; convert: to translate wishes into deeds;
• To explain in terms that can be more easily understood; interpret;
• To bear, carry, or move from one place, position, etc., to another; transfer;
• Mechanics, to cause (a body) to move without rotation or angular displacement; subject to translation.
In GA translation is often used as an intervention instead of or synonymous with interpretation. In his first book Foulkes (1948) he uses the term interpretation when describing this work of the conductor, he does not use the term translation at all:
“His main function is to direct this process of group formation, to observe and to interpret events to himself and to the group. He is concerned predominantly with the present, immediate situation. He is particularly fortunate, in witnessing a dynamic display, he sees meaning in action”.
He says that what needs to be interpreted is:
“content of communications, behaviour and interpersonal relationships.” (p. 135)
In his next book published together with E.J. Anthony (1957), the term translation has taken the place of interpretation used only a couple of times: (p. 75 & 81). In the second edition of this book (1965), the chapter; “Patients and their Background” is rewritten, and the text is much shorter, however the following sentences are the same:
“We use this material for translation and interpretation, but instead of this being mainly the task of the therapist we further and stimulate the active participation of the whole group… Or they may be interpretations, members offering suggestions as to the real meaning of the communications.”(p. 81/p. 56-57).
In the book “Therapeutic Group Analysis” Foulkes defines the term thus:
“Translation is the equivalent of making conscious of the repressed unconscious in psycho-analysis. Interpretation refers to a special contribution on the part of the psycho-analyst to this translation” (p.111).
He goes on to state that the whole group participates in this process, which ranges from inarticulate symptom to verbal expression, understanding and insight, from primary process to secondary process, from primitive to logical, rational expression.
“Group-analytic theory recognizes this translation as part of the process of communication”(ibid).
Translation for Foulkes is thus tightly connected to the communication processes in the group. It is used as a conceptualization going much wider than what the term interpretation covers. One might say that they belong to different categories, but both belong within the category of GA interventions.
In his “Selected Papers” he writes about translation in chapter eighteen about “Group dynamic processes and group analysis”(1968), after pointing out the importance of establishing the group context as a frame of reference and encouraging free group association:
“This opens up the possibility of ‘translation’ , i.e., for transforming symptoms, dreams or other manifestations through a process of progressive communication into meaningful language. Translation, the move from symptom to problem, remains one of the constant aims in the analytic group. This move is considered progressive for therapeutic, analytic reasons, but at the same time corresponds to progress in inner articulation in each individual” (p. 181).
He states that it is a therapeutic exercise in its own right. That it promotes awareness in each individual of himself and the other person(s), as well as the world of objects, and thus the capacity for (analytic) insight and integration in each individual (‘Ego training in action’).
In his last work (1975), that is his most technical work, interpretation is again given much more attention than translation, as he did in his first book. In this work he is giving a clarification of the difference between the German ‘Deutung’ and the English ‘interpretation’. He states that interpretation signify and connotes meaning more in a rational here and now as in pointing; ‘look here’… ‘do you understand/see’. The German ‘Deutung’ goes deeper and is more authoritative according to Foulkes, whereas ‘interpretation´ is more superficial, more on the surface of phenomena. In the chapter on “The Conductor in Action” (1975, p.111) we find a description that is somewhat clarifying concerning the two terms:
“On the whole we may say that we proceed from the symptom in the widest sense of the term to the underlying conflict or problem. This process, proceeding from the one to the other, contains many steps all of which together constitute an analysis. Interpretation is only one of the means in the service of this analysis, though an important one.
Analysis is work done in the service of making unconscious meaning or expression, conscious. There is a double process going on from below upwards, as it were, and from the surface downwards….
All these processes can be looked upon as if they were translations from one type of expression, from one language to another, from symptomatic and symbolic meaning to a clear understanding of what is at stake. In referring to the total processes we sometimes speak of ‘translation’.”
In GA after Foulkes it is rare to come across the use of translation as a technical expression. The first edition of Kennard et.al. (1993) does not index it altogether, but have a lot of discussion about interpretation. There is no mention of it neither in Dalal’s book (1998) nor in Stacey (2005). Behr and Hurst (2005) stay true to the original connotation of the term, linking it to symptom inclusion into open communication. Roberts and Pines (1991) define translation as:
“The move from less to more articulate communication, from unconscious to conscious awareness, from symptomatic and symbolic meaning to a clearer understanding of unconscious processes” (p.75).
Translation in effect is a way of bringing symptom material into a problem by using the group process. That often has to do with the group coming into awareness of what was unconscious in the group becoming conscious and thus a focus of problem definition, understanding, elaboration and work. Schlapobersky (2016) outline translation as one of three principles of therapeutic interventions in groups. The other two are location and interpretation. This important concept differentiation and inter-validation makes it clear how translation is connected to location of phenomena in group processes and how translation differs from interpretation as well as they overlap and interconnect at some points. He extracts this in two tables in his book. Twelve features of group psychotherapy that arises from the principle of translation and ten basic tenets for conductor’s interpretations in group-analytic psychotherapy.
Lorentzen (2014) in his discussion of interpretation based on Roberts (2000) writes:
“In group analysis, where the therapy process consists of an ever – increasing expansion and deepening of communication, the term ‘translation` is often used instead of ‘interpretation´. ‘Translation ´ of behavioural and interactional events is a more tentative approach, working from ‘the surface´, and keeping open other possibilities for the understanding of phenomena, whilst avoiding asserting oneself as an unilateral authoritative specialist on the unconscious mental life of others, which could adversely interfere with the development of a group- analytic culture.”(p.9).
This could be understood as underlining in the importance of the group’s participation of the process related to translation, whilst interpretation is more associated to the analyst. Still there is some overlapping and both identical and different aspects of the two. One could see them as a parallel to Freud´s attempt at differentiating between interpretation and re-construction. The term translation in the end seem to be extending much wider both horizontal and vertical implicating much more of the total process of the group. Interpretation on the other hand is included in this and aims at helping in bringing analysis forward when it is needed.
Translation is thus a technical term and is mostly used when bringing on a new gestalt to the group including some here and now contextual aspect. It is an intervention that could include interpretation, but has wider and deeper implications including the group as a whole. Using an analogue from literature, it would not just include the translation of the visible text, but also the subtext, the palimpsest, that often is tangible as affects or emotional qualities often primordial (Foulkes) or proto-mental (Bion).
See also: Interpretation, location, communication, unconscious – conscious symptom.
Behr, H. & Hurst, L. (2005) Group – Analytic Psychotherapy; A meeting of Minds. Whurr Publishers Ltd, London, England and Philadelphia USA.
Dalal, F. (1998) Taking the Group Seriously: Towards a Post-Foulksian Group Analytic Theory. Karnac Books, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, London and Philadelphia.
Foulkes, S. H. (1948) Introduction to group analytic psychotherapy. Karnac, London UK.
Foulkes, S.H. & Anthony, E.J. (1957) Group Psychotherapy. The Psycho-analytical Approach. Karnac Books, London UK.
Foulkes. S.H. (1964) Therapeutic Group Analysis. Karnac Classics, London, UK.
Foulkes, S.H. & Antony, E.J. (1965 second .ed) .Group Psychotherapy. The Psychoanalytical Approach. Marsfield, Karnac, London, UK.
Foulkes, S.H. (1975) Group Analytic Psychotherapy; Metod and Principles. Gordon & Breach, Science Publishers Ltd, London UK.
Kennard, D., Roberts, J. & Winter, D.A. (1993) A Work Book of Group-Analytic Interventions.
Lorenzen, S. (2014) Group Analytic Psychotherapy; Working with Affective, Anxiety and
Personality Disorders. Routledge, London and New York.
Roberts, J. and Pines, M. (1991) The Practice of Group Analysis. International Library of Group Analysis, Routledge, London and New York.
Roberts, J., Kennard, D. & Winter, D.A. (2000) A Work Book of Group-Analytic Interventions. International Library of Group Analysis, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, London and Philadelphia.
Sclapobersky, J. (2016) From the Couch to the Circle; Group-Analytic Psychotherapy in Practice. Rutledge Taylor and Francis Group. London and New York.
Stacey, R.D. (2005) Complexity and Group Processes; A Radically Social Understanding of Individuals. Brunner – Routledge. Taylor & Francis Group, Hove and New York.
www. Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries.com
 The definition of this concept was first published in the Danish blog of concepts called The Group Analytic Dictionary in 2012. This blog was in 2015 taken over by GASi and is now to be found in the organization’s webpages. I have tried to update the term in line with important writings that have appeared after I did the first definition. It might still not be a fully comprehensive text, but that is an invitation for the reader to engage in adding what might be lacking in it.