Hello, my name is George. I’ve been an interpreter and translator for a couple of years now, most of which here in the UK. In general I’ve been providing my professional services at various different community places – hospitals, prisons, courts, job centres, schools and others. Of course, like every one of us I’ve been meeting with a multicultural variety of people. Each of them has been influenced particularly by the current situation they were in, thus shaping up their emotions and feelings in quite a unique way. Some of them were nervous and scared, others happy to see the things are not as bad as expected; there have been lonesome and sad people and many more as people are unique by themselves. I clearly remember some of them throughout the years, others I might have forgotten and left somewhere in the past. Nonetheless the key priority for us, as professionals, is to stick to the conduct of our jobs – to be fully impartial, confidential, prompt and accurate in everything that we do
As it is supposed some of the cases we encounter are challenging indeed. A reasonable question here would be: could we, the professionals (even highly prepared and motivated one) to keep our minds open, fresh and clear enough (a tabula rasa (lat. “blank slate”)) to apply our services properly? I clearly remember (and I believe it is applicable to every one of my colleagues too) a significant number of cases which I worked upon: a man in his 50ies was hit by a car near Victoria Station and his family had to make the decision to agree that his vital system were to be switched off; a poor, beggar woman in a detention centre asking for an asylum stating she had been persecuted in her country because of her religion; a very young girl, only 5 years old (applied with a full anesthetic while her mother was grabbing her (as instructed) to not move until to fall asleep) to pass through a surgery operation inside her mouth; a man that was recently detained in custody for ordering a forbidden item in the UK (without him been aware of the law); a man in his 40ies suffering from cancer and waiting to die in a few days but still vital & haven`t lost his sense of humor and many, many more. After finishing off all appointments we do not usually have any feedback, correspondingly do not know what happened with all of those people and maybe that is better. It could be heavy and overloading to bring all of these human stories while accepting new and new ones. However as it is clear – our work still influences us with or without being conscious about it. As the psychologists say, the self-reflection enables us to observe and control our own behaviour. The more this personal characteristic is being developed the more we will be able to do our jobs in a proper manner. Naturally learning and improving a language never ends and knowing at least two languages is just part of the interpreter’s job description. Another, nonetheless important milestone is the interpreter`s ability to be, as much as, possible emotionally balanced, patient, empathetic, communicative and social. To be thoroughly aware & aligned to the ethical and moral rules of both of cultures. Too express positive attitude to everyone around & express toleration throughout their work. Some of us usually have an extensive work background (in my case it is psychology and I’ve been a member of a few professional organizations) which could be additionally beneficial. That is why there are different sub occupations in the interpreter’s profession depending of the appointment focus – court halls, medical premises, prison, police offices and detention centres and etc. It is in human nature to look for a comfort zone. It would be good to find out “our place” &to avoid any additional and unneeded pressure, as much as, possible. But even if we have that good chance to work exactly in our occupation and having a lot of appointments and long hour’s jobs we can realise something is not as it should be. After a certain amount of time working we could reach to the realisation that: we’ve became apathetic, lacking motivation & demotivated. Each element somehow connected to our work – clients (patients), colleagues, buildings and etc. is accompanied with negative feelings. But what has happened & why? Well it is extremely likely we’ve got the burnout syndrome – a modern professional term used for the state of lasting stress accompanied by mental and physical exhaustion. It was coined in 1974 by the American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger who worked on the understanding and treatment of stress, burnout, and substance abuse. Freudenberger defined the burnout as “a state of mental and physical exhaustion caused by one’s professional life”. It is very likely to occur among people involved in social jobs (working with other people) – teachers, police officers, lawyers, medical staff, interpreters as well and many more). Because their focus is on the person-to-person interaction, the personal values and qualities of the employees are of great significance, as well as their mental state at work. We all know that the emotional charge can easily change in each subsequent minute by different stimulus. Bringing together a combination of different feelings (often negative – of despair, anger, disappointment, etc.), we interact with others. This provokes reactive behavior on their part and the performance of professional activity is facilitated or, on the contrary, difficult. Its typical symptoms apart of the already mentioned above are: weariness and weakening of the immune system, inability to sleep – difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep (maintenance), and/or wake up too early in the morning; inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness; concentration and attention issues; constant fatigue, headache, body pain, muscle tension and stomach problems, rapid heartbeat, feeling tired and drained, loss of appetite; anxiety, depression, demotivation, cynicism, alcohol, nicotine or other misuse. The condition is very similar to that of the typical stress moments in our life with the difference – it has developed in work related scope. Throughout the 1980s, the concept is expanding and already covers larger groups of people. It concerns not only those working in the social sphere but also everyone else whose work requires support for others (including colleagues) or creative approach to resolving changes. Now this psychological issue is so significant that the healthcare systems in some European countries (for example Sweden, Netherlands and others) consider it as a medical diagnosis. It is included in the official therapeutic manuals and there are health professionals trained to recognize, observe and apply appropriate treatment including consultant methods and approaches. Why the burnout state is such a sensitive topic?According to Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com, achieved on the 29th of Oct.2017) “Burnout is a big problem in the UK these days. According to a new YouGov survey commissioned by Virgin in 2015, over half (51%) of full-time UK employees said they have experienced anxiety or burnout in their current job.Also last year, a survey of more than 2,000 UK GPs by Pulse, found that 50% of them were at high risk of burnout. And in one of the largest studies of burnout among social workers in the UK conducted by Community Care, 73% of the respondents reported levels of emotional exhaustion so high that the lead researcher said it was above the cut-off threshold to be considered at risk of burnout.” Additional light has been put over by the Psychology Today official website – https://www.psychologytoday.com (achieved on the 29th of Oct.2017) “Burnout is not a simple result of long hours. The cynicism, depression, and lethargy of burnout can occur when you’re not in control of how you carry out your job, when you’re working toward goals that don’t resonate with you, and when you lack social support. If you don’t tailor your responsibilities to match your true calling, or at least take a break once in a while, you could face a mountain of mental and physical health problems.” How we, the professionals can copy with this state?First of all I have to emphasise that there are many potentially possible states similar to the burnout one so it can be easily confused. If we have any doubts it might be presented it would be better to meet a professional and to have a discussion. A well prepared consultant or psychotherapist can easily recognise whether a course of a professional treatment is good to be applied. On the other hand there are many cases when a mental health professional is not familiar with our native culture which is important as well. That is why all elements in every particular case are important. When have we started feeling like that? For how long? Is this an everyday state or only from time to time? What kind of social support do we have? How do we relax? And surely many more. The key elements are the good relationship and communication between our colleagues & that those focus on the professional over the emotional discussions. Our association – the Association of Certified Interpreters is one of the first few considering this important psychological topic and I would be more than happy, as its member to offer my help, knowledge & experience as to integrate also the psychological aspects for our profession.
Written by George Dimitrov, Ma, MBPsS
Chair of the Interpreters’ Voice Magazine Committee