In the following video, Rachel Tribe, Professor at the School of Psychology at the University of East London, talks about the benefits and challenges involved in working with interpreters in mental health care: "Working with interpreters has enriched all my clinical work. What it has made me do is make me think about how I construct my language, how I construct explanatory models of mental health."
The role of the interpreter is to provide a translation of the meaning of what has been said, not a word for word translation, which is not necessarily useful. Interpreting technical language used when talking about mental health can be especially difficult and such terms may need to be explained to the interpreter in the briefing or to the consumer throughout the session. These complexities imply that the interpreter may be required to use more words to convey the meaning as many words or phrases have no direct translation in another language.
To maximise accuracy, it is recommended that practitioners work with professional interpreters as they will be trained to effectively translate concepts that are specific to mental health. Professional interpreters are trained to remain neutral and objective, while non-professional interpreters – especially relatives of the consumer – are likely to add their own opinions to the translated information. It may also be the case that non-professional interpreters omit information.
Some consumers may be reluctant to work with interpreters and ask for a family member, friend or relative to interpret for them. Having someone close to the consumer interpret may be detrimental to the consumer and to their relationship with this person. Some family members have reported being quite confronted when children were interpreting personal information about their parents. It may also be the case that working with family/friends censors the consumer’s discourse. For example, a child may refrain from disclosing family violence if his/her parents are interpreting. In these situations, practitioners should explore the consumer’s reasoning and take time to further explain the importance of working with professional interpreters.