Self-Care for Interpreters

Self-Care for Interpreters | Jonathan Beagley Language Services

Note: This article was updated on April 25, 2016 to include additional information.

Another thing I learnt through my education in translating and interpreting at Monash University and my own research was the importance of self-care. Although research in translation and interpreting often seems quite theoretical and not applicable to the practice of interpreting, when it comes to self-care and vicarious trauma, reading and understanding research in T&I is vital. In this post, I’ll discuss some of the reasons why you should be interested in self-care before talking about some things you can do to get started with your own self-care regimen.

What is self-care? defines self-care as “any activity that you do voluntarily which helps you maintain your physical, mental or emotional health. It can help you feel healthy, relaxed and ready to take on your work and responsibilities”. This can include a variety of activities that are useful for helping you stay in optimal condition for, in this case, interpreting assignments.

Why should I engage in self-care?

Interpreting is a highly demanding task, so taking care of our minds and our bodies is extremely important to making sure we are able to keep interpreting accurately. This is particularly important for community interpreters who are often faced with the task of interpreting for refugee clients or victims of family violence. Such confronting situations challenge us not only as interpreters but as individuals; it’s never easy hearing someone else talk about difficult circumstances they’ve had to endure, but it’s even more difficult to have to repeat vivid and often violent descriptions of such events. These circumstances can open us to the possibility of being traumatised vicariously.

The concept of vicarious trauma, although it has only fairly recently been studied in interpreters, has been studied in various populations, including psychotherapists, social workers, health care workers and even journalists. Moreover, interpreters may come from refugee backgrounds themselves or have survived family violence, making vicarious traumatisation all the more likely. I won’t go into too much detail on what vicarious trauma is exactly, but if you’re interested in learning more, have a read of this insightful article in Psychology Today or, if you’re interested in something more scholarly, this article.

How do I engage in self-care?

There are a variety of ways you can engage in self-care. While a lot of advice on self-care seems quite obvious, it’s important to remember that vicarious trauma can have fairly nasty effects on the body and mind, so simply knowing what to expect and how to deal with it will put you ahead of the game.

Some of the activities or habits that you may find useful include:

  • Getting sufficient sleep
  • Eating well
  • Not accepting too many emotionally difficult jobs
  • Meditation or mindfulness exercises
  • Prayer
  • Physical activity (going to the gym, yoga, etc.)
  • Taking time to be with family and friends
  • Debriefing!

What else can I do?

As mentioned earlier, being prepared for the possibility of vicarious trauma is, in and of itself, a great way to help mitigate the consequences of dealing with such emotionally charged interpreting jobs. Nevertheless, if you do engage in the self-care activities mentioned above, it may be helpful to see if the agency you work for has counselling or psychotherapy available. Many agencies in Australia have employee assistance programs available that will cover consultations with a therapist. If not, it may be worth seeking out your own psychotherapist to help you cope with what you’re experiencing.

You might also want to seek out professional development courses on stress management, self-care and vicarious trauma, such as the short course offered by Monash University on Stress Management. Opportunities like this are also a great way to meet colleagues for networking to find new clients and just relax with some likeminded individuals!

What Do You Think?

Do you already engage in self-care? What do you find most helpful and why? Can’t seem to find a way to turn down stressful jobs? Let me know what you think in the comments!

For more information:

Leave a Reply