As interpreters, we must respect and treat all participants in an interpreting session with dignity and respect. In addition, we must be neutral and not take sides with anyone, except if we see a case of abuse or domestic violence; we must report it if we see that none of the participants do so.
In the case of an interpreting session in a mental health case, whether by video, telephone or in person, we must be impartial and say everything the patient speaks; we must take the same tone of voice, make the same gestures (without disrespect), use the same body language (except in some extreme situations such as punching a wall).
We must understand that the patient suffering from mental health is not in his right mind, and depending on his condition, he may be violent or not violent, not speak or just babble, not move and stare into the void, etc.
In my years as a medical interpreter, I have had patients who urinate or defecate in the middle of a session, scream, throw themselves on the floor and insult the provider attending them. Still, some patients are very friendly, talk about imaginary things, and make jokes.
We must repeat everything that the patient says in the session, whether it is babbling (if it is not understood, communicate it immediately to the provider), cries, insults, short words, sounds, incoherent things, hand and body movements (with respect and at the discretion of the interpreter).
Now you may ask me why it is essential to do so. Everything the patient says will be fundamental for the provider to make a deep diagnosis and analysis of the patient. If we do not say a word out of embarrassment or shame, we give a lousy interpretation, and the provider will not provide the proper diagnosis. For example, this is your first session with the patient and provider, and you have no idea what they discussed earlier. In the previous session (which you did not interpret), the patient insulted the provider by calling him a "son of a bitch." Now that it is your turn to interpret, the patient says the same thing to the provider, but you are embarrassed to say it. Instead of saying, word by word, what he said to the provider, you interpret it in Spanish as "hijo de tu madre" (when it should be "hijo de puta.") The provider may think the patient is already improving because his vocabulary is less aggressive. Therefore, his report will give a false diagnosis, which is not our mission. Remember that we are the bridge that breaks down language barriers.
Before you start the interpretation, you should ask the provider what to do if the patient becomes aggressive. It doesn't matter if the patient is aggressive or not; there should always be a plan to keep you safe. If the patient suddenly becomes aggressive, you must follow the plan discussed before the session, stay calm (I know it is difficult, but not impossible), don't yell, don't cry, and don't run. Stand behind the provider; he is prepared and knows what to do in this situation. Follow his instructions to the letter.
Now, not all patients are aggressive. Some lose track of time and may even say funny or meaningless things; others sing without rhythm, dance alone, laugh non-stop, make strange noises, and even sound funny; others suffer from depression, anxiety, stress, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other conditions. We must treat people with respect and dignity, which means you should never laugh or make fun of them. I understand that some situations are funny and make you want to laugh, but you should avoid that. We don't want to give the impression that we are people without judgment and don't have any compassion for the person suffering from a mental illness or condition.
If you do not feel prepared to do a session with a patient suffering from a mental illness or condition, you should entrust the task to another interpreter experienced in this field. If you want to do it, prepare yourself mentally to be able to do a good session. Nothing may happen, but you should always be ready for the unexpected.
At Traducy, we have extensive experience with providers in the psychological and psychiatric fields. We provide interpreting services with high respect for patients and treat them with dignity.
Call us for a free estimate at 385-977-8713 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions. We will be happy to assist you.