Sign Language Interpreter Burnout

There has been extensive research about why sign language interpreters tend to burnout.  Other professions such as in the medical field, legal field, and social work field are warned against burnout for similar reasons.  It is critical for students and current interpreters to consider the causes of the sign language interpreter burnout rate in order to prevent dropping out of the career before their time.


Many interpreters feel an obligation to accept every assignment that comes their way.  Because of this, they find themselves working morning, noon, and night excessive hours.  For financial reasons, interpreters may feel they need to take as many hours as possible to guarantee they can make it during the “drier” months such as summers and holidays.  This can, however, interfere with the basic human need for a work/life balance.Sign Language Interpreter Burnout

Work/Life Balance

Psychologists would suggest work/life balance is necessary for a sustained and productive career.   Interpreters and other services professionals should make an effort to participate in family and friend life.  Self-care is critical for interpreters.  This leads to emotional wellness.

Emotional/Psychological Wellness

Psychological wellness depends heavily on balance.  To avoid burnout, interpreters should participate in activities such as journaling, yoga, listening to calming music alone, or simply taking a break from work or going on vacation.  They should take time after assignments to allow time to process all that occurred.  Sign language interpreters are constantly communicating the emotions of other individuals.  They may in one day interpret a funeral, a birth, and a business meeting.  There is a vast array of feelings they may interpret on a daily basis.  This can lead to vicarious trauma, otherwise known as compassion fatigue.

Compassion Fatigue

Compassion fatigue is defined as “a state experienced by those helping people or animals in distress; it is an extreme state of tension and preoccupation with the suffering of those being helped to the degree that it can create a secondary traumatic stress for the helper.” (Dr. Charles Figley)  As an interpreter, if you notice yourself suffering from compassion fatigue, do not ignore it.  Take steps recommended in the additional resources to regain psychological wellness.

Physical Toll

Finally, not only do interpreters experience mental exhaustion, but they also experience physical exhaustion.  We recommend keeping a healthy diet as well as regular physical exercise.  This will contribute to a clear mind when they are interpreting.  Find suggestions about Positive Health and Wellness. Additionally, they should pay regular attention to their physical well being which contributes to a work/life balance.


As a profession, we cannot afford the rate of burnout.  We lose excellent interpreters too frequently because of exhaustion and a lack of work/life balance.   This article is hardly comprehensive.  Refer to additional resources for more information on how to avoid sign language interpreter burnout.


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