Mental Health Interpreting Institute

interpreter.jpgGreat Opportunity: Coming up next month is the Montgomery, Alabama, Mental Health Interpreting Institute 2006. Scheduled for September 12-17, this 40-hour conference offers intensive training in mental health interpreting with Deaf clients, a must for any interpreter or other professional, Deaf or hearing, who works with Deaf clients and professionals in mental health settings. We heard from a past Institute attendee that this training is very much worth it, as well as affordable. See the conference brochure for more information and an application (be forewarned: it takes a a few moments for the brochure to upload).

Last Resort: Although we are first and foremost advocates of Deaf professionals providing direct services to Deaf clients whenever possible, we know that it is unavoidable that interpreters will be needed in different mental health environments. A Deaf person living in a rural area, for instance, may not have access to a Deaf therapist in person or via videophone. Deaf people hospitalized after a suicide attempt are likely to find themselves amongst hearing clinicians, unless they are fortunate enough to live close to a treatment program designed for Deaf inpatients. The authors in this paper suggest the use of mental health interpreters as a second-best resort; we advocate the use of interpreters only as a last resort, and only when the interpreters are qualified for this type of work.

Word Salads: Mental health interpreters need specific training and experience in the subtle nuances of mental health interpreting, in order to ensure the best possible outcome for a less than ideal professional-client relationship. Not only do mental health interpreters need to become familiar with psychological jargon, they also need education about different mental health diagnoses, psychiatric medications, and assessment procedures, among other issues. An interpreter who is familiar with the concept of a “word salad’, for instance, would recognize a Deaf person’s incomprehensible string of words as a psychiatric symptom and be able to communicate this to the hearing professional. An interpreter with no prior exposure or knowledge of word salads, in contrast, might unintentionally try to “clean up” the Deaf person’s signing so that it makes sense to the hearing professional, unaware that an important psychiatric symptom is unconveyed in the process.

Another example of the importance of mental health interpreting training involves assessment procedures. Psychologists administering tests to clients follow clearly defined steps and directions. An interpreter with little understanding of these procedures might inadvertently over-explain directions to a confused Deaf client by elaborating or expanding on what the psychologist said. In another situation, this may be acceptable, but in this case, the interpreter’s well-meaning intentions may end up “feeding” answers to the Deaf client or leading the client to respond in a certain way, thereby impacting the testing results.

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