Recently I have been thinking about the necessity of self-care in the interpreting profession. This was mostly brought about by a conversation with a colleague about how empathising with deaf clients is a regular occurrence for interpreters. Harvey (2003) states that interpreters are at high risk of becoming overwhelmed with too many emotions and that it is imperative that interpreters have support mechanisms in place. I have been recently thinking about what support mechanisms I have in place….friends/family/my mentor/partner – but is that enough?
It is the unfortunate fact that BSL/English interpreters routinely witness intentional or unintentional acts of oppression experienced by the deaf persons. According to Harvey (2003, p207) “It is largely inevitable…to experience some degree of empathetic pain”. What’s more, he explains that interpreters need to have a balance of being able to empathise but not empathising too much as to get caught up in its perils. I have been advised that especially in a medical appointment, I need to ensure I am mindful to separate myself from the deaf person and remember that it is not me experiencing the trauma. Harvey (2003) suggests that you can become so consumed by the deaf persons pain that you cannot differentiate their pain from your own. Experiencing empathetic pain may happen by me physically seeing a deaf person in trauma but also by what information I hear. Whatever I have heard from my interpreting assignment I cannot ‘un-hear’. The way interpreters are affected by the information they are privy to is dependent upon the individual. However, I think an important characteristic of an interpreter is to have compassion, but that we don’t become compassion fatigued (a gradual lessoning of compassion over time). If the interpreter suffers from compassion fatigue or feels overwhelmed by the empathy they are feeling towards the deaf person, then in my view, this is the time interpreters need to focus on self-care. One way of maintaining self-care is through one-to-one supervision. Whilst many interpreters are involved in group supervision, it is questionable about whether some things can be discussed in a large group. For example, I don’t necessarily want to retell what I have heard (or course adhering to confidentiality protocol) because then all of those involved in my supervision group will then have to carry this traumatic narrative around with them, solving nobodies best interests.
Therefore, could a similar model of supervision used by the counselling profession be adopted by interpreters? There are similarities for the reasons why supervision is undertaken by the counselling profession – enhancement of skills and for counsellors to work through their own personal issues. What’s more, supervision is viewed by counsellors as an ethical imperative to ensure clients are valued, they are helped the best way possible and the client receives a better quality of service (Carroll 2007). Therefore as interpreters are we doing our clients a disservice by not having supervision on a one-to-one basis?
I have mentioned mentoring as an important mechanism for interpreters to continue to grow and develop as professionals in previous blogs. However, I don’t believe I could use mentoring in the same way I am describing the use of supervision. The Oxford Dictionary makes a clear distinction between the two – a mentor is described as a ‘trusted advisor’ while supervision is an ‘overseer’ ,’keep an eye on’. Therefore, perhaps a mentor could be used to refine an interpreters skills and a supervisor could focus on the wellbeing of an interpreter? A friend I know who is a counsellor has supervision on a weekly basis. If the information interpreters hear is sometimes similar to that of counsellors (e.g. accounts of abuse; domestic violence; working in mental health; etc.) then why are we not as an interpreting profession encouraging more interpreters to seek supervision to help towards self-care?
Carroll, M (2007) ‘One More Time: What is Supervision?’ Psychotherapy in Australia Vol 13No.3 35-40.
Harvey, M.A. (2003) ‘Shielding Yourself From the Perils of Empathy: The Case of Sign Language Interpreters’ Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education 8 (2): 207-213.