The Linguist

The Linguist 57-6 - Dec/Jan 2019

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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26 The Linguist Vol/57 No/6 2018 OPINION & COMMENT their families with longstanding psychological or physical conditions? In my time as a professional interpreter, I have felt like that on many occasions. At a certain point, I needed to take a break from interpreting. I asked myself what I had done wrong to feel that way. Was I not truly professional? Did I need more training? Should I stop practising community interpreting altogether? A caring nature Over a two-year period, I assisted five patients diagnosed with cancer and their families. At the same time, I was interpreting for a teenage patient and family with complex mental health issues. Only after taking a break did I gain some perspective and the ability to consider the predicament I found myself in. I am an interpreter because I want to help patients with limited English to communicate with clinicians. I perceive myself as a caring person. This comes with an openness, and a willingness to listen and find a solution to a problem if it is within my capacity to do so. However, this two-year period came at a cost. I learned that by listening to each patient's story I was becoming part of their story. What fed my empathy in turn caused me physical and emotional stress. I started to notice pain in my shoulders, I had headaches and palpitations, and I felt emotionally exhausted. I had experienced a similar physical reaction to other people's suffering in the past, but this was different. I was exposed to the patients' suffering – and to the emotional pain of their families – for a long time, and all of them died. Preventing compassion fatigue According to Adams, Matto and Harrington, 1 "Researchers have found that focusing on a sense of accomplishment even when you witness hardship that you can't 'fix' can help to prevent compassion fatigue and negativity." Accomplishment here has to be taken on a How is the wellbeing of interpreters affected by vicarious trauma and what can we do to mitigate the impact? We are living in times of a deepened awareness of mental health issues and what constitutes a person's wellbeing. It is vitally important that each of us in the interpreting profession takes the responsibility to manage stress effectively. Stress-related occupational hazards that are specific to the helping professions – of which community interpreting is one – include compassion fatigue (i.e. emotional and physical draining following exposure to the suffering of service users) and vicarious trauma, which affects the way we perceive the world after repeated exposure to traumatic material from service users. How often do we leave an interpreting session feeling tearful, helpless and anxious or emotionally exhausted? How often do we feel we can no longer interpret for patients and Traumatic exposure RENATA TOWLSON © SHUTTERSTOCK

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