Vicarious Trauma Affecting Interpreters and Translators


Vicarious trauma can be a phrase heard often within the victim service and medical professions. Crisis responders testify to the trauma that their clients and patients experience and so are routinely provided possibilities to release some of the emotional burden that the work encompasses. – sprachenservice

Professional translators and interpreters behave as language tools and therefore are expected to perform like machines. The very real nature of the interpreter’s assignments has an emotional and physical impact that, if unaddressed, can significantly impair someone’s ability to perform their job. Language professionals could find that they are completing their assignments on time, but that they are struggling to leave behind the images of their client’s experience. Whether transcribing a police interview, interpreting throughout a medical crisis, or translating a victim statement, language professionals are rarely given the opportunity to debrief after having a stressful event.

Research has shown that when our brains are triggered by a dangerous event or trauma (either emotional or physical), the limbic system “hijacks” the mind temporarily. The left side from the brain shuts down and also the right side with the brain takes over. Unfortunately to have an interpreter, language is controlled through the left brain. If an interpreter has enjoyed a similar event or feels empathy for that client, he or she may struggle with finding the appropriate words to interpret the client’s experience. The interpreter may leave the appointment saying, “What just happened- I’m normally so good at things i do?”

The symptoms of vicarious trauma, including anxiety, anger and a lack of self-confidence, were relayed by interpreters and translators who have been working on projects for the TI Center. Our translators reported feeling agitated and sad, reading their completed translations repeatedly, doubting themselves as well as their competency.

As a result, the TI Center staff, together with staff at the Denver Center for Crime Victims, began researching how they could help language professionals view the impact of interpreting others’ stress and trauma and recapture their energy for working with the public.

In response, the TI Center has launched a 6-hour workshop, entitled Health Enabling for Language Professionals (HELP). Participants will become familiar with how to cope with the emotional and physical challenges that you face like a language professional. Become familiar with how the brain and the entire body react to trauma and then practice some proven stress management techniques. After the workshop you will be a stronger more positive person, both professionally and personally. – sprachenservice