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Working With a Foreign Language Interpreter

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In most cases, you should hold a pre-session and post-session meeting with an interpreter without the patient present. The pre-session meeting allows you to alert the interpreter of the length of the session and discuss his or her experience doing medical or mental health interpretation. The post-session meeting provides an opportunity to learn about relevant cultural issues, clarify interpreted content, and improve your skills.

Basic ground rules for working with an interpreter include:

  • Speaking in the first person (Psychologist to interpreter: “If Mr. Adan says, ‘I can’t sleep at night,’ say, ‘I can’t sleep at night’ rather than ‘he can’t sleep at night’ ”).
  • Interpreting everything that is said. “Do not leave anything out that I say or the patient says. Also, please do not substitute words if you can avoid it, or summarize what either of us say, or add your own observations. If you want to address me directly, please begin with ‘Interpreter would like to say . . .’ ”
  • “If there is something you do not understand, please stop me. Also, if it seems to you that I am not understanding something, please let me know.”
  • “If you are not sure about how to interpret something that I say, please let me know and I will try to say it differently. I recognize that some of the terms I or the patient use will not have a direct English equivalent. Please do your best to express the meaning of what is said.”
  • “I will want you to sit to the side and slightly behind the patient, so as to strengthen the relationship and contact between the patient and myself.”
  • Finally, you need to discuss and confirm the interpreter’s understanding and acceptance of confidentiality, as well as avoidance of potentially exploitative dual relationships.

Searight, H. R. (2017). Clinical and ethical issues in working with a foreign language interpreter. Journal of Health Service Psychology, 43, 79–82.

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