Skip to main content
Article thumbnail
Location of Repository

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

By Kirsty Williams


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

Publisher: University of Leicester
Year: 2004
OAI identifier:

Suggested articles


  1. (2003). 4/6/02 `Mental Care Denied to Refugees,. London
  2. (1998). A Case for Consultation in the Mental Health Setting: Application for Mental Health Interpreters.
  3. (2000). A conflict of responsibilities: A grounded theory study of clinical psychologists' experiences of client non-attendance within the British Health Service. doi
  4. (1999). A critique of seven assumptions behind psychological trauma programmes in war-affected areas. doi
  5. (2001). A dozen differences to consider when working with refugee families.
  6. (1992). A sociolinguistic analysis of the interpreter's role in simultaneous talk in a face-to-face interpreted dialogue, doi
  7. (1996). A systemic perspective on working with interpreters. doi
  8. (2003). An overview of the issues in the work of interpreters. In
  9. (2002). Asylum Seekers - Who cares? The Psychologist,
  10. (2002). Asylum seekers and refugees: an uncertain exile. Healthcare Counselling
  11. (2001). Asylum-seekers, refugees and mental health services in the UK. Psychiatric Bulletin, doi
  12. (1996). Beyond the divide between cognition and discourse: using interpretative phenomenological analysis doi
  13. (1975). Beyond the pleasure principle. doi
  14. (1982). Bilingual-Bicultural Interpreters as psychotherapeutic Bridges: A Program Note. doi
  15. (1999). Bridging the gap or damming the flow? Some observations on using doi
  16. (1997). Clinical interviewing with trauma victims: managing interviewers risk. doi
  17. (1991). Clinical Issues in Mental Health Service Delivery to Refugees. doi
  18. (1993). Code of Practice for Interpreters. London: Medical Foundation for the Care of Survivors of Torture.
  19. (1920). Comments on psychic trauma.
  20. (1997). Communication through Interpreters in Healthcare: Pearlman
  21. (1996). Counsellor stress in the field of trauma: A Preliminary Study.
  22. (1992). Crisis support, attributional style, coping style and post-traumatic symptoms. Personality and Individual Differences, doi
  23. (2003). Critical history of the acculturation psychology of assimilation, separation, integration and marginalisation. doi
  24. (2002). Crossed wires: interpreters, translators and bilingual workers in crosslanguage research doi
  25. (1998). Cultural Clinical Psychology. doi
  26. (1998). Culture and Mental Health: a southern African View. Cape Town: doi
  27. (2000). Deaf people with mental health needs in the criminal justice system: A review of the UK literature. doi
  28. (1994). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the mental disorders (fourth edition). doi
  29. (2000). Dilemmas in qualitative health research. doi
  30. (1999). Doing Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. In doi
  31. (2000). Doing Qualitative Research. London: Sage doi
  32. (1974). Drama fields and metaphors. symbolic action in human society. doi
  33. (2001). Emerging paradigms in the mental health care of refugees. doi
  34. (2002). Emotional reactions of rape survivor advocates: A multiple case study of anger and fear. doi
  35. (1994). Evaluating the qualitative research report. In
  36. (1992). Examining Torture Survivors: The ethics and techniques of Interpreting.
  37. (2001). Forced displacement in Yugoslavia: A meta-analysis of psychological consequences and their moderators. doi
  38. (1997). From what's neutral to what's meaningful: reflections on a study of medical interpreters.
  39. (1998). Grounded Theory Methodology. The Pressing Need for a Coherent Logic of Justification. Theory and Psychology, doi
  40. (1988). Grounded Theory: A Promising Approach to Conceptualisation in Psychology. Canadian Psvcholoa, doi
  41. (2003). How do we recognise good research? The Psychologist,
  42. (2000). Interpreters and communication in the clinical encounter. doi
  43. (2002). Interpreters as co-workers: why is this relationship hard to achieve?
  44. (2000). Is acculturation uni-dimensional or bidimensional? A head-to-head comparison in the prediction of personality, self-identity and adjustment. doi
  45. (1991). Issues in Providing Mental Health Services to Hearing Impaired Persons, doi
  46. juxt For myself bust für Ilia whole of g people' p. 7 ' ' a 1w 4Y yti( ýH) ' 11 uncle' p S. 1 nc _ ýýý8 p. II" , w)ning ma all their hearts 3-224 502
  47. (2001). London: Sage Refugee Action
  48. (1988). Looking before and after: refuges and asylum seekers in the
  49. (2002). Making the best use of health advocates and interpreters. doi
  50. (1992). Mapping the language of Racism: Discourse and Legitimation of Exploitation. Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf. doi
  51. (2002). Mental Health Race and Culture. doi
  52. (1994). Methodological issues in research with refugees and immigrants. doi
  53. (1991). Moderating effects of sociocultural variables on acculturation attitudes of Hispanics and Asian Americans. doi
  54. (1995). Phenomenological Psychology. In doi
  55. (1999). Psychological intervention with displaced widows in Sri Lanka. International Review of Psychiatry, doi
  56. (1981). Psychological issues in mental health interpreting. Royal Institute for the Deaf Interpreting Journal,
  57. (1998). Psychological sequelae of torture and doi
  58. (2003). Psychological wellbeing and young African refugees in the west. Unpublished Doctoral Thesis
  59. (2003). Psychosocial Distress & Mental Health Problems Experienced by People Seeking Asylum or with Refugee Status in Nottingham: Al needs assessment. Executive Summary: Nottingham NHS Trust Research and Development.
  60. (2001). PTSD among Bosnia refugees: A survey of providers' knowledge, attitudes and service patterns.
  61. (2003). Qualitative Psychology: A practical guide to research methods.
  62. (1993). Quality control in qualitative research. doi
  63. (1994). Reclaiming the epistemological `other'. Narrative and Social Constructions of Identity'. In
  64. (2004). Reflecting on the development of interpretative phenomenological analysis and its contribution to research in psychology.
  65. (1991). Reflections on talk and social structure. In
  66. (1998). Reflections on working with and across difference: race and personal differences in clinical psychology encounters. Clinical Psychology Forum,
  67. (1998). Refugee families have psychological strengths. doi
  68. (1993). Refugees and Mental Health: Issues for Training. Mental Health News, doi
  69. (1998). Refugees and Primary care: tackling the inequalities. doi
  70. (1996). Representing Reality: Discourse, rhetoric and Social Construction ism. doi
  71. (1996). Representing Reality: Discourse, Rhetoric and Social Construction. doi
  72. (1998). Resilience in unaccompanied minors from the north of Somalia. Psychoanalytic Review,
  73. (2003). Selected indicators measuring capacity and contributions of host countries. Population Data Unit, Geneva (Electronic version - retrieved
  74. (1997). Standards for research projects and theses involving qualitative methods: suggested guidelines for trainees and courses. Clinical Psychology Forum,
  75. (1998). Supervision of refugee interpreters: 5 years of experience from Northern Norway, doi
  76. (2002). The Mental Health Needs of Refugees. doi
  77. (1992). The mental health treatment team as a work group: Team dynamics and the role of the leader.
  78. (1999). The need for understanding. Health Matters, 39 (electronic version -last updated;
  79. (1998). The personal experience of chronic benign lower back pain: An interpretative phenomenological analysis. doi
  80. (1991). The problem with Interpreters: Communicating with Spanish-Speaking patients, Hospital and Community Ps chy iatry, doi
  81. (1999). The psychosocial effects of torture, mass human rights violations and refugee trauma. doi
  82. (2003). The refugee context and the role of interpreters. In
  83. (1984). The Right to be Understood. A handbook on working with. employing and training community interpreters. Cambridge: National Extension College.
  84. (1995). The risks of treating sexual trauma: stress and secondary trauma in psychotherapists.
  85. (1991). The third party: Using interpreters for the deaf in counselling situations.
  86. (1997). Training the community interpreter: the Nunavut Arctic College experience. In doi
  87. (1996). Transforming the Pain: A Workbook on Vicarious Traumatisation.
  88. (2002). Understanding immigrants: acculturation theory and research. In
  89. (1996). Understanding the therapeutic relationship: using psychoanalytic ideas Fox,
  90. (1991). When there is no Doctor. Hesperian Foundation:
  91. (1995). Work with an interpreter. doi
  92. (1990). Working with an interpreter in psychiatric assessment and treatment. doi
  93. (2004). Working with asylum seekers and refugees. doi
  94. (1997). Working with foreign language Interpreters: Guidelines for Substance Abuse Clinicians and Human Service Providers. Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, doi

To submit an update or takedown request for this paper, please submit an Update/Correction/Removal Request.