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An Examination of Vicarious Trauma Among Refugee Mental Health Interpreters

Abstract

Vicarious trauma has been studied in a myriad of professionals working with traumatized populations; however, much of the existing research does not include interpreters working in refugee mental health, who face similar experiences as other professionals working with trauma survivors. The current study investigated the experiences of Arabic-speaking interpreters working in refugee mental health. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with each interpreter and qualitative grounded theory design allowed for the exploratory analysis of refugee mental health interpreter (n = 10) experiences. A total of 10 themes emerged from the findings related to interpreting experiences, support resources, and the current socio-political impact on participants. Although all participants reported work-related emotional distress, they also described experiencing positive growth from interpreting. These findings suggest that interpreters may develop a sense of resilience, empowerment, and positive life perspective due in part to experiencing marked emotional strain from interpreting refugee trauma narratives and receiving emotional support from friends, family, and coworkers/organizations. Overall, the current study provided insight into the challenges and needs of Arabic refugee mental health interpreters.

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Acknowledgements

This research was conducted in partial completion of the requirements for a Masters degree in Clinical Psychology from Central Michigan University. Additionally, the research was supported in part by a Grant from the College of Graduate Studies at Central Michigan University.

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Student research Grant by Central Michigan University college of graduate studies.

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Correspondence to James V. Simms.

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Simms, J.V., Thelan, A.R., Domoff, S.E. et al. An Examination of Vicarious Trauma Among Refugee Mental Health Interpreters. Occup Health Sci 5, 581–601 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41542-021-00101-9

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s41542-021-00101-9

Keywords

  • Vicarious trauma
  • Post-traumatic growth
  • Resilience
  • Interpreters
  • Refugee