Hi everyone, Holly posted a great article from Psychology Today about Vicarious Trauma and Interpreters so I thought I would share. Take a minute to read it; I think it is very worthwhile.
Also, let me know your thoughts and what you think about it! Have you experienced vicarious trauma? How did you deal with it? Or, conversely, did you not have a hard time with a situation that you thought would be more emotionally difficult for you? I remember one particularly difficult situation in 2007 that was emotionally taxing to the point that I ended up having to go home for the rest of the day. That case has stayed with me over the years and I’ll never forget it. However there have been other situations, different but no less negative or emotionally draining for the persons involved, that have not affected me as much and I kind of felt guilty for NOT feeling more.
Has anyone experienced things like this and how do you deal with them?
This is a very important topic, Iantha! It is one of the reasons that we developed the Self-Care series on this website. Also, be sure to watch the video “Interpreting for Trauma Survivors” which specifically addresses vicarious trauma that is experienced by interpreters.
Thank you for posting the link! Yes, I have experienced vicarious trauma, particularly after experiencing emotionally traumatic situations in my personal life. Experiencing vicarious trauma means that you are an empathetic human. It is not easy to completely separate yourself from the words that pass through you. It sounds like you did the right thing by taking care of yourself (resting at home) after the event you noted. The fact that you do not feel emotional attachment to more recent situation probably means you are simply becoming more experienced, so that these things do not affect you as much (the same as nurses and doctors become less affected over time).
Thank you both for discussing such an important topic. I’ve done over one hundred asylum cases and hearing such traumatic stories can be very heavy on the interpreter’s heart. One way I protect myself is avoid making eye contact with the client. From the beginning, I direct the client to look at the provider or interviewer directly. I focus on my notepad. I do modulate my voice and follow the lead of the interviewer to show compassion and humanity (very necessary in these cases) and by doing this allows me to focus in the interpretation and not in the emotions of the client.
The most shocking case I remember was in hospital, I was called to a room in which a teenage girl has just passed away from cancer. The situation was very tense. Parents were in tremendous pain, crying and hauling but also very angry at hospital since their daughter had been disconnected from the respirator after 6 months. Seems that the hospital had taken parents to court to have a judge give the order to have the child disconnected because there was nothing that could be done for the patient anymore. I had never seen a death body before, (I had just started working at a hospital), so it was quite shocking to be there and see how different the color of the skin looked. I decided to look straight down to the floor and follow the lead of the doctors. There was so much warmth, compassion and love in their voices. Parents calmed down once they heard the interpretation. It was painful for everyone involved. The image of the young girl stills stays with me after 4 years of such experience. Regardless, I love my job. Being there for my Spanish speaking people gives the motivation to keep doing this job.