Indirect injuries affecting interpreters and translators

Indirect trauma is a phrase often heard in victim service and the medical professions. Crisis responders witness the trauma their clients and patients experience and are routinely given opportunities to release some of the emotional burden that their work entails.

Professional translators and interpreters act as language tools and are expected to function like machines. However, the very real nature of interpreter assignments has an emotional and physical impact that, if left unaddressed, can significantly alter a person’s ability to perform their job. Language professionals may find that they are completing their tasks in a timely manner, but cannot leave behind the images of their clients’ experience. Whether it’s transcribing a police interview, interpreting during a medical crisis, or translating a victim’s statement, language professionals rarely have the opportunity to report after a stressful event.

Studies show that when our brains are activated by a dangerous event or trauma (whether physical or emotional), the limbic system temporarily “hijacks” the brain. The left side of the brain shuts down and the right side of the brain takes over. Unfortunately for an interpreter, language is controlled by the left brain. If an interpreter has experienced a similar event or feels empathy for the customer, they may have a difficult time finding the right words to interpret the customer’s experience. The interpreter may walk out of the appointment saying, “What just happened? I’m usually that good at what I do.”

Interpreters and translators working on projects for the IT Center conveyed symptoms of indirect trauma, including anxiety, anger, and self-doubt. Our translators reported feeling agitated and sad, reading their full translations over and over again, doubting themselves and their competence.

As a result, TI Center staff, along with staff from the Denver Center for Crime Victims, began investigating how they could help language professionals understand the impact of interpreting the stress and trauma of others and regain their energy to work with the public.

In response, the IT Center has launched a 6-hour workshop, entitled Health Enablement for Language Professionals (HELP). Participants will learn to cope with the physical and emotional challenges that you face as a language professional. You will learn how the brain and body react to trauma and then practice some proven stress management techniques. At the end of the workshop you will be a stronger and more positive person, both professionally and personally.

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