Wellness Connection

By interpreters for interpreters

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Interpreters often work in stressful situations, such as medical emergencies or end of life conversation, and many others. In the course of our everyday work, we can be subjected to vicarious trauma and at risk of compassion fatigue. In a collaborative effort with our network of wellness professionals from a variety of backgrounds, the MasterWord team has developed an approach to help  interpreters mitigate the risk of vicarious trauma and reduce the impact of stressors we encounter at work.  

The Four-Step Process outlined below is designed with you, the interpreter, in mind, as a way to help you deal with strong emotions during a stressful interpreting encounter, while the Tools are provided to help you prepare for or decompress after a difficult assignment. The Resources are there to connect you to experts on the subjects of mind, body, and nutrition.

1. Recognize and name the emotion

Sometimes we find ourselves feeling overwhelmed or overcome by feelings. This can affect how we perform. Ignoring our emotions will not help us mitigate their impact. To begin to diffuse a negative emotion, the first step is to take a moment to recognize what we are feeling and give it a name.

“Simply recognizing and naming an emotion quells its effect, making thoughtful management of subsequent behavior more likely.” (“When Labeling an Emotion Quiets it” – Tom Valeo)

2. Distance yourself from emotion

Second, we can take a step back to assess the encounter or scenario that caused us to feel this emotion. By seeing a bigger picture that involves not only our own reaction or perception of reality but that of others involved and even the perspective of a neutral or objective observer, we gain clarity.

Own reality

You are fully associated into the problem or situation

This is were you are ‘on stage,’ experiencing the situation in the first person. During an interpreting encounter, we interpret in the first person and therefore often experience each participant’s situation in our own reality. Thus it is not uncommon that we may experience a strong emotion, which in our own reality feels very intense.

2nd Position

You are now one step removed from the situation

You mentally take a step back. Now instead of being ‘on stage’, you are watching yourself as if you are ‘in the audience.’ In the interpreting encounter, you now see the situation from the perspective of each of the other participants, understanding each of their frames for the situation and your relation to them.

3rd Position

You are now two steps removed from the situation

Now instead of ‘watching yourself from the audience’, you are observing from the last row, looking at the audience and the stage like a fly on the wall. Think of yourself as a researcher of the interpreted encounter: now you analyze the situation from outside the encounter. Taking this perspective will allow you to distance yourself from the encounter emotionally, remain objective, and learn from it.

3. Reset

Once you have named the emotion and distanced yourself from it, you’ll feel its intensity has greatly subsided. Overcoming the distraction of experiencing the emotion allows you to consciously come back into your neutral, objective role as interpreter. From here, you can now move forward deliberately and thoughtfully while leaving the emotion and associated stress behind. Think of re-setting as wiping your mind clean, or hitting “refresh” on your thoughts.

There are two kinds of “reset” tools to help you move beyond the emotional encounter–those you can do discreetly in the presence of others, and those that may require a quick break.

4. Be present

What does it mean to be present? Being present involves directing your attention toward what you are currently doing or experiencing, the “here and now.” Think of it as an exercise in focus, without judgement. The benefits of being present include better decision-making, better communication, and better performance. Read more on the benefits of remaining present.