Interpreting in mental/behavioral health settings: considerations for interpreters
Interpreting in a mental/behavioral health setting is a specialized skill. Trained medical interpreters should be aware that it differs from medical interpreting in key ways. Differences in mental health encounters include:
- Mental/behavioral health encounters generally take a longer period of time
- Understand that some diagnoses may affect communication
- Encounter formats could vary such as group settings, couples, individuals, and families
- Fidelity to the tone and register of the client is crucial
- Be aware of any personal biases about, or prejudice toward, people with mental illness.
It’s about effective communication.
In a mental/behavioral health setting, using the simultaneous mode of interpretation may be more necessary than the consecutive mode.
- The interpreter transmits messages while the speaker continues to talk. The interpreter is usually a few words or seconds behind the speaker.
- The interpreter waits until there is a normal pause in the speaker’s message, then immediately repeats exactly what was said. Both pre- and post-sessions with the provider are important. Remember to ask about any specific information vital to improving the quality of communication.
Items for an interpreter to address during a pre-session
- Any specific information vital to improve quality of communication
- How interpreting will be done (i.e. mode, pause often)
- Re-emphasize patient confidentiality
Items for an interpreter to address during a post-session
- Any cultural impressions that the provider wouldn’t know.
It’s about taking care of yourself so that you can take care of others.
Self-care is an important part of the interpreting process. Some mental/behavioral health interpreting can be very intense and emotionally challenging for an interpreter. It's imperative that interpreters take the necessary time to keep themselves healthy in order to provide the best care and services possible.