A Q&A with CVT's Interpreter Project Group | The Center for Victims of Torture

A Q&A with CVT's Interpreter Project Group

Thursday, June 7, 2018

In recent months, two blogs covered the work of CVT interpreters. Part 1 explains the general role of the interpreter, while Part 2 explores an innovative research project conducted with interpreters as part of CVT’s Healing Hearts study.

Here, in Part 3, the Interpreter Project Group shares more about the experience of working as, or with, CVT interpreters. Alyce Eaton, CVT’s former research coordinator, interviews Leora Hudak, MSW, LICSW, psychotherapist with CVT’s Saint Paul Healing Center and Healing Hearts; as well as EhTa Zar, client services coordinator for Healing Hearts and a professional Karen interpreter.

Alyce: How do you see the role of the interpreter in clients’ healing processes at CVT?

EhTa: As an interpreter, you interpret everything that a provider is saying to a patient, and you can’t leave things out or miss things—that’s part of the role. It can be complicated sometimes, because you feel like you know what the provider’s trying to say, so you want to say it, but you have to hold on to it because you can’t read their mind.

Sometimes I wish the client was me instead, because then they, in my shoes, would understand the provider.

This way of talking in a triangle—it takes a long time! But we interpreters have to be there, otherwise there is no communication between the provider and the patient.

Leora: I think: as a clinician, what am I always keeping front and center? And that’s always the client’s healing. Interpreters, especially the ones I work really well with, keep the value of understanding at the core of what they are doing.

That’s the indispensable thing that interpreters do—precision is their expertise, but it’s also this willingness to say: the words that you are using are so important that I need to make sure that the provider knows what they are and that, vice versa, you know exactly what the provider is saying.

Alyce: EhTa, as an interpreter, how do you approach Karen idioms of distress, especially heart-related expressions?

EhTa: I remember a time I was interpreting and the client said that her heart was like a water drop, or a heart that was hanging. I was trying to explain it and it was difficult. How does that look? How does that feel? Are you trying to say that it is hanging, and there’s a little string that is going to almost break and if it breaks, your heart will drop and will keep dropping and it will never hit the ground? Or what is it like?

For me, I try to not think about it too much because I am in the moment, interpreting, but later I was thinking: how does that feel? That heart is going to drop anytime!

It’s pretty difficult to interpret heart idioms: this is how the client feels and it is physical, and emotional, and you can’t tell them that that’s not a feeling, you know? Because they feel it. And I don’t feel it, but describing it is like feeling what you’re trying to describe. As an interpreter, I’m trying to send the best message I can to make sure that the clinician understands that message of that heart dropping.

Alyce: Leora, how do you approach these idioms as a therapist?

Leora: My opinion on this is just one, but with these types of things I want to hear it in the client’s words, exactly as they were said, with a couple of understandings around that. If I can see the interpreter struggling in the moment, I’m not going to leave the interpreter alone in that. I might start to ask some questions and engage the interpreter a little bit more to make sure that there’s understanding.

I think this is a place where follow-up is really important, to be able to check in with the interpreter after the appointment and say, “Hey, our client said this and I just wanted to see if I was really getting it. Was there something else after you interpreted it that you were thinking about or that you wanted to say?”

I think as a clinician, the responsibility that falls on me is to understand why and how this is so significant in this person’s life. So I have my set list of questions that I’ll go to right away, such as: “So when that happens, are there any other feelings in your body, any other emotions that you’re feeling?” and “What bad things happen when you feel that way? What are you afraid will happen?” And so those help you understand the fuller picture of what this thing is, outside of the metaphor itself; that falls on me as the clinician, not on the interpreter.

This is an area where I think the work we’ve been doing on this research project led to changes for me. I think now that I’ve started being more curious with interpreters and asking about the heart idioms of distress, most interpreters now know that I’m interested and when they hear it, they’ll explain it directly.

Now there’s this mutual understanding, so the interpreters don’t have to do a lot of this wondering like, “Is the provider going to care? Does she want to just hear ‘depressed’ or does she want to hear this whole long metaphor-analogy about how the heart is hanging on a string?”

And the answer is: the client’s words are what I want to hear.

Photo by Dreamstime.


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