Academic journal article Translation & Interpreting

The Impact of Emotional and Psychological Factors on Public Service Interpreters: Preliminary Studies

Academic journal article Translation & Interpreting

The Impact of Emotional and Psychological Factors on Public Service Interpreters: Preliminary Studies

Article excerpt

1. Introduction: A short review of past research on the influence of emotional and psychological factors in PSI

Studies conducted at the close of the 20th and early 21st century have found that interpreters who work in public service interpreting (PSI)--also known as community interpreting (CI)--frequently face circumstances that may be detrimental to their emotional and psychological well-being. Such circumstances may even give rise to grave consequences in some cases. Studies by L. Loutan et al. (1999), Baistow (2000), and the author (2006) offer examples.

Research by L. Loutan, T. Farinelli and S. Pampallona at the University Hospital in Geneva in 1999 was sparked by an interest in exploring the effects of exposure to traumatic experiences and the emotional impact that these experiences have on interpreters. The findings are based on survey responses by 18 of the 22 members of the Red Cross interpreter service. (Although 19 participants responded [86% response rate], one incomplete survey was not included in the analysis). The results indicate that a very high percentage (almost 100%) of the interpreters surveyed had in fact endured difficult life circumstances themselves. Another 28% had been exposed to major traumatic events: war, torture, detention, and injury inflicted by others. Regarding the content of the consultations they interpreted, seven of the 18 respondents (39%) reported that more than half of their commissions dealt with violence.

In order to evaluate the effects of interpreting for such encounters, participants responded to questions about feelings and symptoms related to their work. Results indicated that 28% of participants often dealt with difficult emotions during the sessions, 66% experienced frequent painful memories of the sessions, and 83% encountered patients for whom they had interpreted outside the consultation on another occasion.

The most frequent symptoms reported by participants were nightmares, depression, and insomnia. The interpreters expressed an interest in debriefing with the service provider post-session in order to discuss their reactions. The authors recommend that doctors be aware of the pressures and challenges that face interpreters in this context and propose that they allow interpreters time to share their emotions in order to cope better. They also suggest regular informative pre- and post-sessions (debriefings) for interpreters with group supervision as seen fit.

The second study, by Baistow (2000), surveyed nearly 300 PSI interpreters in six European countries and found that more than half of the respondents (55%) reported "significant emotional stress" arising from their work or the circumstances of their clients. Baistow determined that the emotions felt most frequently in connection with interpreting--stress, frustration and grief--were also the emotions experienced most strongly. Approximately 39% of the participants reported sometimes experiencing strong feelings of anxiety, irritability, fear, mood swings, confusion or feeling disturbed during an assignment, whereas 38% reported experiencing these emotions rarely, 15% never, and 8% reported experiencing them often.

Following Baistow's study, the author (2006) conducted research at the Escuela de Mediadores Sociales para la Inmigracion (EMSI, the School of Social Mediators for Immigration) in 2003 in Madrid, Spain. EMSI was by that time an official institution that trained social mediators for immigration. Although research was carried out during a period of relatively high immigration rates in Spain, professional translation and interpreting services remained non-existent. Rather, interpreters were usually ad hoc volunteers who regularly served with non-profit organizations (NGOs) or other institutions.

A total of 40 sets of data was collected from EMSI students, who had been working as interpreters. Three-quarters (75%) of these student-interpreters were immigrants. …

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