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As an interpreter you might find yourself interpreting war criminals or their victims for an on going period. How do you, as an interpreter, cope with the stress caused by this type of experience?

What support or training, if any, is provided?

Would you as an interpreter accept this type of assignment without having received some sort of training?

asked 26 Jan '12, 16:34

Marta%20Piera%20Marin's gravatar image

Marta Piera ...

edited 27 Jan '12, 18:38

Vincent%20Buck's gravatar image

Vincent Buck

Nurturing oneself should be a priority rather than a luxury that is squeezed into a busy schedule. Understandably, it is hard for interpreters to take time out for themselves, especially if working on a piecemeal basis or as a freelance interpreter to earn a casual income. Nonetheless, it is a necessity to take the time to “check in” with oneself on a daily basis even if it is only for a short time. As Salston and Figley (2003) note, we need to “balance caring for others with caring for ourselves” (p. 173). Having hobbies, activities, interests, and a life outside of interpreting is important. Developing stress buffers and self-protection/self-healing strategies helps one to manage occupational stress and responses to traumatic work circumstances.

Educators and employers should encourage students or employees to build a self-care plan that takes into account regulating and caring for the following:

  1. Physical health (diet, sleep, and exercise are important)
  2. Emotional health (being human and acknowledging normal human reactions to traumatic material)
  3. Social needs (family and friends are critical)
  4. Spiritual needs (a belief system about the world helps)
  5. Financial needs (determining how much is needed vs. how much is wanted helps one say “no” to work if necessary) (Bontempo & van Loggerenberg, 2010)

Out of interest, Murphy’s (1996) meta-analysis of stress management interventions in the workplace found that, as a single technique, meditation provided the most positive and consistent results in terms of an intervention. However, combining interventions (for example, muscle relaxation plus cognitive reframing) were far more effective at reducing occupational stress than applying any single technique alone.

One’s natural resilience can definitely be scaffolded and enhanced by engaging in positive coping strategies, and training should be a priority for interpreters before being place in traumatic work settings. There’s a growing body of research on the vicarious traumatisation of interpreters and the need to develop stress buffers, coping strategies and support networks to mitigate the impact of exposure to traumatic content/situations during the course of interpreting work. I have a long list of references on this topic that I can post if anyone is interested in reading further on this issue.

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answered 29 Mar '12, 07:16

KarenB's gravatar image


edited 29 Mar '12, 18:24

Vincent%20Buck's gravatar image

Vincent Buck

We are (I am) interested in reading further and publishing (here or somewhere else)a list of references. Would you mind getting in touch with me (email in my profile)? Thank you.

(29 Mar '12, 07:32) Angela

I have emailed Angela a comprehensive list of references re: vicarious traumatisation of interpreters / managing occupational stress as an interpreter. If anyone else wants the list, you can reach me on If there’s a way to upload the doc as an attachment here, someone can let me know and I will do that instead!

(03 Apr '12, 18:58) KarenB

Hi Karen, I am not sure if you can attach a file to this message but you can either upload your reference list document to and then post its link or you can copy and paste your reference list to and then share its link here

(22 Apr '12, 17:30) dilsayar

Great suggestion, thank you! Here’s the link to the reference list!!

(23 Apr '12, 10:36) KarenB

Thank you VERY much, Karen - and dilsayar for having suggested the MO :-) - the matter was broached at a recent EULITA meet in Madrid, will forward this link to them :-)

(23 Apr '12, 11:30) msr

De-briefing groups is something I believe in. Unfortunately, not very many around. But I read a very interesting post about it over at Streetleverage - a sign language interpreter blog:

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answered 29 Mar '12, 16:02

tulkur's gravatar image


There's another question on this subject, heretofore unanswered, lower down the homepage: Community interpreters, have you ever been offered or taken advantage of supervision/coaching?

The answer will of course depend on "who" you are, ie the coping mechanisms one will have developed as a person and as a professional to deal with stress, compartmentalisation and good friends :-) looming large amonsgt them.

If working for an institution, such as criminal tribunal, one would hope the set-up will include some head-shrink for that very purpose... I don't think any specific training can be had other than, if required, general stress-management classes, so accepting such assignments to my mind would rather depend on one's personality, life and professional experiences + possibly the availability of professional help, should it prove to be necessary.

Personnaly, I'm a lot more sensitive to places than words - although age has brought greater propensity for wet eyes :-) - and believe evil leaves a mark where it was perpetrated, stronger where much evil was inflicted, so I would never accept, say, a contract involving a visit to a concentration camp.

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answered 27 Jan '12, 09:08

msr's gravatar image


edited 27 Jan '12, 12:12

"Milton Fingerman, who, as a GI during World War II, was an interpreter for the cadaverous survivors of Dachau when that death camp was liberated, died Monday at East Jefferson General Hospital. He was 90."

(16 May '12, 08:35) msr

Our Dutch colleagues organized a Symposium about this topic inviting the Court interpreters from different Courts in The Hague (members and non members):

"Coping Strategies for Traumatic Interpreting Situations"

We won't find out much because it's still very personal.

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answered 27 Jan '12, 12:10

Angela's gravatar image


I believe interpreters could benefit from Mindfulness, a kind of Zen Buddhism for Westerners, developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Basically it's just about concentrating on your breathing for a little while and calming your mind. I find mindfulness exercises a helpful stress evacuation tool. You can download mindfulness meditation exercises for free at least from the iTunes store. Depending on the amount of time at your disposal, you can choose exercises ranging from 3 to 20 minutes.

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answered 16 May '12, 10:04

Sirpa's gravatar image


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question asked: 26 Jan '12, 16:34

question was seen: 13,157 times

last updated: 16 May '12, 10:04 is a community-driven website open to anyone with questions and/or answers about interpreting, i.e. spoken language translation

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