I-Trauma is a research project to study the impact traumatic content may have on interpreters. Often interpreters have to relay information that would be universally considered highly traumatic, such as stories of abuse, rape, torture, genocide, survival in a natural disaster, etc. The settings may vary from a community office of a non-profit organization working with new immigrants, to an international criminal court, where the testimonials are given as part of trial of warlords and dictators. It is the interpreter who, as the speaker of the language of the victim, is most directly exposed to the traumatic content. It is the interpreter then, who needs to carry the message faithfully and fully in a different language. Yet, unlike psychologists and social workers, interpreters undergo no specialized training to deal with the continuous exposure to other people's suffering.

This project will attempt to answer the following questions:

  1. Do interpreters suffer vicarious traumatization?

  2. What mode of interpretation, i.e. consecutive or simultaneous is more likely to lead to vicarious trauma?

  3. Is interpretation from the first person more likely to result in traumatization that the use of s/he?

  4. What factors protect interpreters against traumatization?

  5. What coping strategies do interpreters employ in order to deal with the traumatic exposure?

 Research Hypothesis:

  1. Interpretation of traumatic content from the "I" leads to more vicarious trauma / psychological sequelae  than interpretation from "S/He".

  2. Interpretation of traumatic content in simultaneous mode leads to deeper sequelae  than interpretation in consecutive mode.

 An attempt will be made to explain the found difference, if any, through the Theory of Mind.

 Research Method:

Questionnaire and in-depth interviews. Modified PTSD scales will be used to asses the extent of trauma. Coping strategies and antecedents will be assessed through in-depth interviews.

Expected Research Outcome:

In addition to seeking answers out of academic curiosity, the project will yield practical recommendations to the interpreting community and the organizations, employing interpreters, regarding steps that may be taken to protect interpreters against burn-out. Such steps may include interpreters' process groups, individual or group therapy, or recommendations regarding the use of particular modes of interpretation depending on the setting.

Who is doing the project?

Yuliya Tsaplina is a Conference Interpreter practicing in Washington, DC. She is also currently enrolled in the MA in Mental Health Counseling Program at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.