Vicarious trauma and posttraumatic growth : a study of how interpreters working in psychotherapy are impacted by their work

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Gomez, Alda
Issue Date
MA in Psychotherapy
Dublin Business School
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Findings are presented for a qualitative study that explored the potential vicarious traumatisation and posttraumatic growth experienced by interpreters working in psychotherapy with refugees and asylum seekers. Six interpreters working in the same centre were interviewed. They reported being aware of being negatively impacted by their work, but expressed that the benefits of their experience outweigh their temporary emotional burden. The need to handle intense emotions during the sessions was found challenging and some of them reported intrusive thoughts after working hours. They mentioned that they have access to adequate training, support systems and self-care strategies, which seem to contribute to their overall positive experience. Both training and support are provided by the same therapists who work with them. The need for further training was acknowledged. Support at work takes the form of monthly support groups and debriefing sessions with psychotherapy staff, if there is a need for it. Personal coping strategies were also shared, such as cooking, writing, talking to friends and dancing, among others. Most participants attend personal therapy, but this does not form part of the support system at their workplace. Additional stressors related to the lack of role clarity for interpreters among therapists, clients and interpreters themselves were discussed. Issues of trust among the three parties in the interpreter-mediated psychotherapy, the level of involvement of interpreters in the therapeutic work, and keeping boundaries were particularly emphasised. The growth experienced by the interpreters was varied, including existential questioning, a life purpose and better relationships with those around. The implications of the study for agencies working with trauma survivors through interpreters are considered, together with some recommendations of best practices for working with interpreters and providing interpreters’ training and support. The lack of sufficient research in the area of mental health interpreting and posttraumatic growth is acknowledged. Author keywords: Interpreting, vicarious traumatisation, vicarious posttraumatic growth, trauma, trauma work, mental health interpreting, interpreters in counselling, interpreting in psychotherapy