Self-care for Sign Language Interpreters

Sign language interpreting is very rewarding but also very taxing on the mind and body.  Self-care for sign language interpreters should be at the forefront of their work.  Interpreters often report carpal tunnel, exhaustion, and vicarious trauma.  Partnership with a reputable sign language interpreting firm and intentional self-care are vital to a long term, successful career.

Repetitive Motion Injuries

Repetitive motion injuries can occur when someone repeatedly makes the same movements.  Because of the nature of their work, carpal tunnel and rotator cuff/shoulder injuries are common for sign language interpreters.  The promotion of self-care requires mindfulness, and immediate attention to physical pain.  With practice, this will reduce and mitigate any potential repetitive motion injuries interpreters may otherwise suffer.  MT&A suggests interpreters seek advice from a medical professional as soon as you start to see symptoms.

Intentional Rest

Exhaustion can be the determining factor between an exceptional interpretation and a mediocre interpretation.  A lack of interpreting support, interpreting too many hours, and/or not getting adequate physical or emotional rest are likely to lead to exhaustion.  Reputable sign language interpreting firms will ensure interpreters are provided a team interpreter when necessary.  Agencies can also continue advocating for the best possible interpreting work environment.  Additionally, if interpreters experience any concerns on the job, they should report them to the agency so that proper measures can be taken to assuage future interpreting support issues.  Sign language interpreters often work long hours, sometimes overnight.  Schedules are often inconsistent (refer to our blog about interpreting careers).  So interpreters need to practice self-care and be creative with their rest schedule.

How to Treat Vicarious Traumaself-care

Vicarious trauma happens when one witnesses or experiences tragic life experiences through another person.  It is caused by second-hand exposure to adversity.  A sign language interpreter may interpret for someone who has been beaten or raped.  Perhaps they witness a baby still born.  Or they interpret for a young person sentenced to prison despite the fact they have not had access to appropriate sign language interpreting services throughout their case.  Vicarious trauma will hit when least expected, and interpreters are human.  This makes it difficult to refrain from taking emotions home at night.  Interpreters should have a sign language interpreting peer who is bound by a Code of Professional Conduct (Ethics) with whom they can share.  In severe cases, interpreters may need to seek counseling to ensure psychological well-being.

Sign language interpreters must practice self-care in order to have a healthy state of mind, to continue working, to socialize with friends and the D/deaf community, and to stay active in family lives.  See our blog on sign language interpreter’s personal lives.


Additional Resources:

Repetitive Motion Injury

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome


Photo Credit:

MT & Associates | Sign Language Interpreting Practice BBB Business Review