Vicarious Trauma in Interpreters


Vicarious trauma happens when we internalize someone else’s trauma and experience it as if it were our own. It mimics the symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), even though the actual trauma happened to someone else.

Similarly, as with PTSD, some suffer from vicarious trauma for 10 or 20 years. Others even report that it permanently changed their view on the world and their personality. Sufferers can be affected on multiple levels – physically, emotionally, and mentally. Some feel ill or experience actual physical pain. Others are plagued with insomnia and nightmares.

It is a well-known condition in many helping professions. People affected are, for example, nurses, therapists, and humanitarian and social workers. Given the settings in which they work, and also the way they work, interpreters are at high risk of experiencing vicarious trauma. Yet, they are often forgotten.

In our article, “The Cost of Caring,” we already highlighted that vicarious trauma is a serious but understudied issue in the interpreting industry. The Nimdzi research team took this as an incentive to go out and talk to interpreters directly. The results show that without providing accurate support, language service providers (LSPs) are at risk of losing interpreters to other professions.

Information contained in this report

  1. TL;DR
  2. Why interpreters are particularly affected
  3. Methodology
  4. Severity
  5. Impact on interpreters
  6. The most challenging assignments
  7. The awareness issue
  8. Resources and support
  9. Impact on the industry
  10. Adding fuel to the fire
  11. What LSPs can do
  12. Conclusion – main insights and next steps

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