Start with the Why:

Vicarious Trauma in Language Professionals

Why is it different for language professionals?

Interpreters seem to experience vicarious trauma differently than other professionals providing aid since they do more than witness the trauma; they channel it.

Robert T. Muller, Ph.D.Vicarious Trauma and the Professional Interpreter. Psychology Today, 2013.

It’s a dirty secret that many interpreters are affected by vicarious trauma, yet few are trained to manage it.

Marjory BancroftBreaking Silence: What Interpreters Need to Know About Victim
 Services Interpreting. The ATA Chronicle.

In 2001, the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC) commissioned a Workload Study focusing on interpreter stress and burnout. The study investigated four sets of parameters: psychologicalphysiologicalphysical, and performance. The results of this extensive study placed interpretation in the category of high-stress professions.

But aren’t many other professions just as or even more stressful? Why is it different for language professionals? Multiple studies of job-related stress for sign language and spoken language interpreters working in various settings, such as refugee and asylum seeker services, mental health and therapy, community/public services, trauma and violent crime survivors care, healthcare and clinical settings, legal investigations and courtroom proceedings, identified common causes of vicarious trauma and job-related stress in language professionals:

Linguistic and Paralinguistic


Use of First Person






Confidentiality vs.

Need to Debrief

Isolation and Lack of

Professional Support

Utilitarian View of

the Interpreter Role

For resources cited here and other studies and research on the issue of vicarious trauma in language professionals, download the list of references.

Professional Spotlight

What about translators?

Although both translators and interpreters are exposed to job-related stress, you might have noticed that most of the research dealing with vicarious trauma in language professionals focuses specifically on interpreters. It is understandable, as interpreters find themselves in direct interaction with their service consumers and directly participate in the exchange of information between the parties of the interpreting encounter.

Nonetheless, while not every finding may apply to both interpreters and translators equally, it is clear that translators can be just as affected by the potentially distressing content of the documents they work with as their interpreter colleagues.

We asked one professional translator to share her experience and opinion on the matter. Watch this short video to learn more.

Click to watch

What about you?

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What we have learned so far…

Start with the Why

Vicarious trauma vs. burnout

Start with the Why

Vicarious trauma in language professionals

Start with the Why

Effect of stress on brain function & performance

Professional Encounters

Before the encounter

Professional Encounters

During the encounter

Professional Encounters

After the encounter

What’s next?

Now that you have learned about vicarious trauma and how it differs  for language professionals from other service professions, learn how our brain works, and why it is important to know how stress affects the brain’s function and impacts our performance as language professionals.