Retraumatization through Interpretation

Retraumatization occurs when the person who has a history of trauma relives the experience by exposure to additional trauma of any type, retelling their story, or experiencing similar events that trigger memories of the original trauma. Refugees who work as interpreters are susceptible to retraumatization because they are constantly reminded of their own earlier traumas and/or loss as they listen to and retell other people’s stories of trauma. The extent to which retraumatization affects the interpreters will vary, depending on how often they are reminded of their earlier traumas and the nature and severity of secondary exposure.

Signs and Symptoms: What to look for

It can be difficult to identify signs of retraumatization in another person when that person is not aware of it or is not forthcoming about what they are experiencing. However, these are some signs and symptoms to look for when an interpreter may be experiencing retraumatization.

  • Anger, irritability, mood swings
  • Sadness
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Fearfulness
  • Guilt, shame, self-blame
  • Poor concentration
  • Anxiety and fear
  • Withdrawing from others

What we can do to help

Teach self-care and stress management techniques (For more information, see our SelfCare Training Workshop)

  • Learn to identify stress triggers
  • Practice deep breathing exercises
  • Take a break (or breaks) during the workday
  • Get physical exercise
  • Know when to stop and say no to work
  • Socialize with colleagues (do not isolate self)
  • Do something one enjoys
  • Find spiritual connection or community

Peer support group

  • Provide a safe and supportive environment in which the interpreters can share and listen to each other’s experiences about the work
  • In serious cases, refer to mental health organizations: It will be very beneficial to seek partnerships with mental health professionals in your local area. There might be a professional or a student soon to be licensed who would be willing to meet with clients on a weekly basis to work on stress management techniques. They could also work with interpreters on how to set up a peer support group, furthering the goal of having them develop self-care methods. Such a professional would also be a great person to conduct a training on Self-Care.