Effective, Reflective Practice


Where do you seek professional support?

Peer support isn’t always apparent in the profession of sign language interpreting. However, support occurs informally and on an ad hoc basis all the time. But, did you know there is more structured support around?

Supervision and mentoring support is the future for all interpreters and in particular for those who work in emotionally charged domains.

Be a competent practitioner

There is compelling, empirical evidence that interpreters who work predominantly in highly emotive settings and do not reflect on the impact of this work could be headed for exhaustion or worse, burn out!

How do emotionally charged assignments affect us as we work?

*Trauma absorption and our *counter-transference responses, if left unprocessed can build up within us unconsciously. This is why it is important to develop an effective, reflective practice which brings into consciousness these potential difficulties.

[interpreters] feel that a sense of interpersonal obligations within the communities in which they work can lead to personal burnout.

Cynthia Cordes & Thomas Dougherty, 1993

I recently attended a course with deaf hub to explore the benefits of professional interpreters seeking ways to take care of their well being. This in turn, enables them to support their fellow professionals through effective, reflective practice.

The course set out to dispel myths and share experiences along with relevant research into current BSL/English interpreting practices. The course had 25 attendees and consisted of plenary, discussion and breakout sessions via Zoom.

What is effective, reflective practice?

Interpreters are often required to embody the mind set of another and portray their feelings and emotions as if they were their own.

How do we process these emotions and, do they leave a residual impact on our own well being? How do interpreters ‘detach’ from the emotive work that they might carry out?

Vicarious trauma happens – it is important we de-brief at the very least. The question is how? How might you unpack the affects of the emotive assignment you’ve found difficult?

*Vicarious trauma

Ingrid Kruz, 2003, states that ‘Interpreting is an inherently stressful occupation’. During traumatic settings, the limbic system and specifically the hippocampus (memory within the temporal lobe) is affected/activated.

More research is required to clarify if the amygdala within the limbic system (the area of the brain responsible for fear, threat and danger) is active and/or stimulated during interpreting traumatic settings.

Many interpreters anecdotally leave the profession within the first ten years with the average length of a BSL/English interpreter’s career seemingly in the region of 6 to 15 years, with only approximately 15% of interpreters still practising after 20 years.

Mike Ballinger and Katie Billingham
August 2020

Your wellbeing

Journalling, peer support, mentoring and supervision are a few ways in which we can take care of our well being. This in turn allows us to continue working effectively in both emotive domains and more widely.

Interpreters are not just a conduit – Emma Darroch & Raymond Dempsey found that it is not just adopting the role of the client that elicits emotional strain and conflict.

Interpreters interviewed within the 11 papers they examined, re-counted that adopting the voice of the service provider could be emotionally taxing, especially when this involved hostility towards the client or translating bad news.

We need to adapt our practices but adapt consciously so our interpreting practice continues to thrive and is not diminished.

Shortening of careers may be down to personal attributes.

Karen Bontempo & Jemina Napier, 2011

*Adaptive and not maladaptive practice

Individual or group supervision might be for you. Mentoring perhaps, peer support or the very least journalling.

Jen Smith, Registered and Qualified Interpreter, describes her journey over the last year as nothing short of remarkable.

[supervision] It has been affirming, settling, a saviour in bad times, a period of growth and reflection and a realisation of a maturity of practice.

Jen Smith Interpretingsigns.com

The work verses the individual.

Interpreting work is taxing and demanding as we strive to be accurate with each utterance to truly reflect the source language. We each respond differently to stresses made upon us. How we respond to the demands of our work vary, naturally, because of who we are as people.

Regardless of our characters it’s important we keep check on the emotional impact our work can have on us. Left unexplored interpreters run the risk of maladaptive practice, severely damaging the ability to function well as an both interpreter and individual.

Perfectionist example: Individuals with maladaptive perfectionistic traits develop patterns of judging their abilities as inadequate and are self-critical of their job performance, which produces, exaggerates, or prolongs stress responses. This maladaptive behaviour compounds what has already been a stressful assignment and requires exploring. You might choose to keep a journal, seek peer support, mentoring or supervision.

Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgement, and shame. It’s a shield. It’s a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from flight.”

Bréne Brown

Everyone benefits

Taking care of our well being affects us individually and brings a positive impact to our role. This in turn benefits our clients and customers who benefit from a competent practitioner who understands the importance of an effective, reflective practice.

What can I talk about in supervision?

You decide what you want to discuss in supervision and can bring anything that relates to your practice. Practitioners often bring issues they may have with co-workers, clients, agencies and other professionals. This may include maintaining professional boundaries, managing conflict, the emotional impact of certain jobs and maintaining working conditions. There may be times when personal issues surface that outside of the remit of  supervision, and you supervisor is trained to recognise this and signpost you if necessary.

I co-founded 360supervison with Cathy Davey in 2014 to redress the lack of Professional Supervisors within the interpreting profession and we developed a bespoke Diploma in Supervision specifically tailored to the needs, experience, and environments within which sign language interpreters work.

Ali Hetherington

*Vicarious trauma is the emotional residue of exposure that counselors have from working with people as they are hearing their trauma stories and become witnesses to the pain, fear, and terror that trauma survivors have endured. It is important not to confuse vicarious trauma with “burnout”.

*Adaptive behavior relates to every day skills or tasks that the “average” person is able to complete, similar to the term life skills. … In contrast, maladaptive behavior is a type of behavior that is often used to reduce one’s anxiety, but the result is dysfunctional and non-productive.

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