I attended an interpreter conference a few years ago that brought together language professionals from around the Pacific Northwest and provided many opportunities for networking and educational workshops. While many talented educators shared their expertise and professional experience with interpreters, a particular module caught my attention, and I think about it often: interpreter self-care.
This was a workshop taught by Dr. Óscar Fernández, a local language access professional and professor at Portland State University. During his presentation, Dr. Fernández emphasized the importance of self-care for interpreters and suggested useful techniques that can be used during challenging and emotionally charged interpreting encounters.
What is interpreter self-care?
Interpreter self-care is not something that I have heard much about in my 10+ years as an interpreter. In fact, it never crossed my mind to practice self-care in the context of my interpreting career. The little information that is provided on interpreter self-care is generally focused toward on-site interpreters. However, as we see technology expand, remote interpretation is now more popular than ever. We must start finding ways to take care of our well-being so that we can be in better shape to help limited English proficient individuals with their language needs.
Inspired by Dr. Fernández’s presentation, I put together a list of self-care tips for OPI and VRI interpreters.
How vicarious trauma contributes to stress
An interpreter is expected to provide seamless communication between two parties. This means that the interpreter blends into the conversation, almost achieving invisibility. However, when a call is emotionally intense, it can be stressful for the interpreter who may be exposed to vicarious trauma.
Vicarious trauma is the emotional reaction a person experiences when they become emphatically engaged in another person’s trauma. This is a very common condition amongst counselors. Because of the nature of our job as interpreters, we are also at risk of falling victim to vicarious trauma.
Tips for fostering emotional well-being to avoid vicarious trauma
I’ve gathered some tips I find useful to decompress after a tough session. I hope you find them effective as well!
- Take a break after an intense session.
- Exercise in between calls. Releasing some of the energy can help reduce stress levels and reenergize the mind. I like to do some easy stretches at my desk.
- Set your boundaries. Know what kinds of calls you are sensitive to so you can avoid being put in that situation.
- Seek out a network of support. Remote interpreting is often a very solitary job — venting about certain experiences can help. Find a local interpreter networking group or an online forum dedicated to your profession. Don’t forget to omit any confidential information belonging to either party, including names, addresses, and telephone numbers.
- Create an inspiring space. You will likely spend countless hours in your home office. Make sure it’s a source of inspiration and energizing vibes. Some of my favorites are essential oils to create a calming environment and plants to energize the office.
- Make sure you eat and drink. Taking care of basic needs is essential to avoid stress build up.