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A qualitative study of refugee interpreters' experiences of interpreting for refugees and asylum seekers in mental health contexts

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posted on 03.09.2010, 13:23 by Kirsty Williams
Background: Refugees come to Britain from over forty-one countries (Home Office, 2002) and are entitled to the same health care as the local population. As there are few bilingual workers, interpreters are vital (Hodes & Goldberg, 2002). Many interpreters are, however, refugees themselves and have similar histories to their clients (Tribe & Morrissey, 2003), thus the impact that this work has on them is worthy of study. The aim of this research was to gain a better understanding of the professional and emotional needs of refugee interpreters and to use this to develop a theoretical grounding from which to inform clinical practice with interpreters. Method: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with nine interpreters who were refugees. The interviews were transcribed and analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA, Smith, 2004). Analysis: Three super-ordinate themes emerged. (1) Bridging the gap, (2) Vocational Discord, (3) Vocational Catharsis. Theme 1 draws together the interpreters' phenomenological experiences of how they did their work and what doing the work involved. Work was, however, often the catalyst for reflection, re-evaluation and reinstatement of their refugee experiences. Therefore, the impact of work formed the basis of themes 2 and 3. Vocational Discord is illustrative of the conflict and ambiguity present in their role. Work often intensified and/or brought to the fore personal, cultural and societal dilemmas and tensions. Vocational Catharsis (3) the antithesis of discord however, encapsulated how through their work, the interpreters were also able to make sense of their own experiences and in so doing satisfy some of their moral, cultural and humanitarian responsibilities. Implications: The main implications as they relate to clinical work with interpreters and mental health provision to refugees were: value and compassion for the similarity of the interpreters' experiences; non-pathologising supervision and support; clearer definition of the interpreter's role; collaboration and partnership with other professionals; challenging assumptions and accommodating difference in the context of refugee mental health.


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University of Leicester

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