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Are you suffering from Vicarious Trauma?

Updated: May 16, 2023

It's Mental Health Awareness Week (15-21 May), and the theme for this 2023 is Anxiety, which is one of the effects of Vicarious Trauma (VT).

VT, also known as secondary traumatic stress, is an emotional, cognitive, and physical reaction to observing or hearing about another person's traumatic experiences.

Anyone who engages empathetically with survivors of traumatic incidents is potentially affected, including doctors and other health professionals.

Today we want to highlight that vicarious trauma is also a reality for sign language interpreters who might feel overwhelmed or overburdened with the emotional weight of a client's traumatic experiences.

So, if this is the case for you, please keep reading. In this article, we will discuss the effects on sign language interpreters and provide some tips for managing the condition.


Effects of Vicarious Trauma

Sign language interpreters can be exposed to traumatic events when interpreting in medical, legal or other challenging settings. This can lead to vicarious trauma, which can manifest in physical and emotional health, changes in values, beliefs, and attitudes, and changes in behaviour:

Some of the physical responses can include:

• Fatigue

• Headaches

• Insomnia

• Nausea

• Muscle tension

The emotional responses can include:

• Feeling anxious, depressed, or emotionally drained after a session

• Sadness

• Fear

• Feeling numb or disconnected from the people around you

• Difficulty concentrating

• Feeling a sense of guilt or responsibility for the traumatic experiences of their clients

The behavioural responses can include:

• Disengagement

• Withdrawal

• Avoidance of similar situations or topics to prevent being re-traumatizing

• Increased irritability

• Difficulty relating to others

Tips for Managing Vicarious Trauma

Vicarious trauma can be a difficult experience for sign language interpreters, but it is important to recognize it and take steps to manage it:

  • Awareness: Sign language interpreters should receive training and support from a qualified instructor on how to recognise and manage vicarious trauma.

  • Join a support group: Access a peer-support group, talk to a counsellor or therapist about how you’re feeling. Spend time with friends and family.

  • Time off: Make sure to take breaks to rest and process the experiences you have encountered throughout the day.

  • Self-care: Develop healthy self-care practises such as exercise, meditation, and stress management to help manage vicarious trauma.

  • Limiting exposure: Be mindful of your own limits and ensure that you are not overexposed to situations that could be potentially distressing.

It is important that sign language interpreters are given the training, support, and resources they need to recognise and manage vicarious trauma. With the right tools, they can continue to provide quality interpreting services while protecting their own mental and emotional wellbeing.

Mental Health Awareness Week is an ideal time to think about mental health, tackle stigma, and find out how we can create a society that prevents mental health problems from developing and protects our mental well-being.


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