Dealing with emotionally challenging cases in public service interpreting: Interpreter experience and the need for self-care training




public service interpreting, emotional challenge, self-care, resilience


Recent years have seen an increasing body of studies on vicarious trauma among interpreters, which shows that interpreters, in contrast to assumptions associated with the conduit model and invisibility perception, are not immune to the impact of traumatic client material. Apart from the traumatic cases, public service interpreters are exposed to various emotionally challenging scenarios in their routine interpreting assignments, ranging from violent crimes in legal interpreting and domestic abuse in social work interpreting, to end-of-life care in healthcare interpreting. Does this have an impact on interpreters’ psychological wellbeing? Is there any training to prepare them for the emotional challenges?

Adopting a qualitative approach, a two-part study was conducted in the UK. First, data were gathered through semi-structured interviews with six practising public service interpreters to investigate emotional challenges interpreters experience in their day-to-day work and how they cope during and after interpreting assignments. Results of the interviews reveal that this group of interpreters were not prepared to handle these emotional challenges at the beginning of their career due to a lack of training, and no support is available to help them sustain mental wellbeing. 

Based on the interview outcome, a training workshop was delivered to 60 trainee interpreters on various emotionally-challenging cases they may encounter and possible coping strategies. Responses from the participants show that this workshop is effective in raising trainee interpreters’ awareness of the emotional challenges in their future work and helping them assess their dispositional traits and job fit before taking up the work. The research concludes by advocating the inclusion of holistic training on self-care in public service interpreter training and calling for providing support to interpreters in safeguarding their mental wellbeing.


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