"Most of the time people don’t realise they are approaching burnout as it doesn't happen suddenly. You don't wake up one morning and all of a sudden "have burnout." It creeps, though our bodies and minds do give us warnings, and if you know what to look for, you can recognise it before it's too late."
Paula Cox January 2019
In 2016 NUBSLI conducted a study and stated that interpreters are leaving or contemplating leaving the profession. I for one never imagined a time when I would be thinking of abandoning my beloved career that I had sweated and sacrificed for years over, but over time I’ve come to understand and empathise with their reasons.
We go into interpreting full of energy, enthusiasm and passion. Some may even think they’re going to change the world, or at least the lives of the people they’re working with. By the end we can experience exhaustion, frustration and disillusionment leading to compassion fatigue and ultimately burnout.
The dictionary definition of burnout is “the reduction of a fuel or substance to nothing through use or combustion” and in professional terms “a syndrome which occurs due to prolonged emotional strain of dealing extensively with other human beings, particularly in helper and recipient relationships.”
If you imagine your body is a car that has been running for some time without checking or filling up the oil, eventually the engine is going to seize completely. Even though you put your foot to the floor it’s going nowhere. Read on...
We are constantly hearing about insecurity in the profession and often face increasing demands from agencies. We have worked so hard and spent so much time and money to become interpreters, we continue to commit to training to keep our skills honed and yet we are regularly having to defend our fees.
It’s not uncommon to experience performance anxiety and feel like we’re just not good enough which isn’t helped by hostile or critical Deaf and hearing colleagues. It can be a lonely business. We’re the first people to make sure everyone in the room is having their needs met, which leaves our own often ignored.
Working in a helping profession like interpreting can be particularly stressful as we are sometimes privy to extreme events in our client's lives and in our limited role we can be powerless to help. We witness discrimination against our clients and are obliged to fight other’s ignorance daily. All of these considerations can have a negative effect on your mental wellbeing, possibly resulting in vicarious trauma, which if unchallenged can lead to burnout.
Most of the time people don’t realise they are approaching burnout as it doesn't happen suddenly. You don't wake up one morning and all of a sudden "have burnout." It creeps, though our bodies and minds do give us warnings, and if you know what to look for, you can recognise it before it's too late.
Signs of Burnout
- Lack of energy
- Chronic fatigue
- Impaired concentration and attention
- Chest pain
- Heart palpitations
- Prone to illnesses because of weakened immune system
- Sense of failure
- Self doubt
- Loss of appetite
- Constantly hungry
- Isolating yourself
- Emotional detachment
- Withdrawing from responsibilities
- Talking negatively about yourself
- Depersonalisation - negative and cynical attitudes towards your clients
- Difficulty holding in feelings
- Taking out frustrations on other people
- Loss of enjoyment
- Lack of productivity and poor performance
- Being late for work, leaving early and increased absenteeism
- Marital and family problems
- Using food, drugs or alcohol to cope
- Loss of interest in developing and learning.
The importance of professional supervision in the prevention of burnout
Back in 2001 Dean and Pollard were talking about a lack of resources such as confidential supervision, as contributing factors to increased illness, injury, turnover, and burnout rates. Hawkins and Shohet had a great analogy in Supervision in the Helping Professions. They said “The British miners in the 1920s fought for what was termed ‘pit-head time’- the right to wash off the grime of the work in the boss’s time, rather than take it home with them. Supervision is the equivalent for those that work at the coal-face of personal distress, disease and fragmentation” By exploring the emotional demands of work stress through regular supervision, stress is reduced and with it the probability of eventual burnout.
With training now developed especially for sign language interpreters from 360 Supervision, we are redressing that lack of support with qualified supervisors who are experienced interpreters. Developing a trusting, supportive relationship with a supervisor you then have a safe place to regularly offload. You can build a greater resilience when you begin to develop your self awareness, explore your boundaries and build a toolbox of coping strategies for the issues that arise when working in a caring profession.
Supervision is the ultimate self care, and though fairly new to our profession, I’m convinced it will soon become a staple support system for BSL interpreters as it is for counsellors and social workers. As a result we will lose less highly qualified, experienced, effective interpreters to burnout in the years to come.
Counsellingconnection.com. (2009). What is Burnout? | The Australian Institute of Professional Counsellors. [online] Available at: http://www.counsellingconnection.com/index.php/2009/09/10/what-is-burnout/ [Accessed 28 Sep. 2017].
Dean, R., & Pollard, R. (2001). Application of demand-control theory to sign language interpreting: Implications for stress and interpreter training. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 6, 1-13.
Hale, C. (2016). An Uncertain Future: Findings from a Profession Exit Survey of British Sign Language/English Interpreters. [online] www.nubsli.com. Available at: http://www.nubsli.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/an-uncertain-future.pdf [Accessed 10 Oct. 2017].
Hawkins, P. and Shohet, R. (1989). Supervision in the Helping Professions. 1st ed. Milton Keynes: Open University Press, p.42.
Rothschild, B. (2006). Help for the Helper: The Psychophysiology of Compassion Fatigue and Vicarious Trauma. W. W. Norton & Company, p.4.
"It takes skill, sensitivity and careful judgement to remain within the boundaries of supervision while ensuring their supervisee has been ‘heard’. This requires a depth and breadth of training to sit with others’ distress, support them without rescuing and signpost if necessary"
Is supervision training really necessary?
Ali Hetherington November 2018
When I qualified almost 20 years ago I decided to work as a freelance interpreter and enjoyed the freedom this afforded me. At the same time I was acutely aware what an immense responsibility working as an interpreter was and that I was primarily working alone with no support or guidance. There were days when I was filled with self doubt and questioned whether I had done the right thing or, indeed, was good enough to do the job. I didn’t know who to talk to and was scared to ask more experienced interpreters for feedback for fear of what they might say. What I longed for was someone to talk to who would not judge me.
Several years later I was fortunate to interpret on a Diploma in Counselling and it was there that I first witnessed professional supervision in action - in the UK counsellors are required to have supervision throughout their career, including while training. That was a pivotal moment for me, as I realised a framework was available to support my work as an interpreter and I immediately sought my own supervision. Read on...
Before I started supervision I went from one assignment to the next, ‘forgetting’ the previous job and focusing on the next and I remained oblivious of the toll work was taking on me. I anticipated that I would talk about decisions I had made in supervision and what I might do differently in the future and that my supervisor would be there to support this exploration of my practice. What I didn’t expect was the depth of feeling that I brought to supervision in relation to my work. For example, my anger at witnessing the discrimination D/deaf people face daily, or my fear of working with certain co-workers and clients.
My supervisors have gently encouraged me to explore my responses to the work I do and the people I work with, including how I might be perceived by others. Supervision has given me the space, time and support I need to truly reflect on my practice, which has allowed for deeper change, understanding and empathy. I credit the process of supervision in enabling me to become a better interpreter and, I believe, a better person too.
I trained as a supervisor in 2009 keen to provide the same support to my colleagues. My cohort were all therapists and throughout my training I was struck by how much the knowledge and skills they gained during their core training provided them with the skill set necessary in the role as a Supervisor. I was conscious that I didn’t have this foundation and my motivation for developing a bespoke Diploma in Supervision was to provide a strong grounding for interpreters wishing to train as supervisors by incorporating skills vital to the role of a supervisor that are not part of our interpreter training. For example, when a supervisee is distressed their Supervisor is responsible for navigating the fine line between supervision and therapy and it takes skill, sensitivity and careful judgement to remain within the boundaries of supervision while ensuring their supervisee has been ‘heard’. This requires a depth and breadth of training to sit with others’ distress, support them without rescuing and signpost them if necessary.
I have advocated for the development of professional supervision within the interpreting profession for many years and have often been asked whether it is really necessary to train as a supervisor. My answer is that supervision is not just about what supervisors do it is how they do it and in-depth training is vital to develop the necessary skills, self-awareness and careful judgment required of the role. My hope is that our profession recognises the valuable contribution supervision can make both to the health of interpreters and, in turn, the service our clients receive.
"As both a provider and recipient of supervision I have been struck by the way in which the same issues rise to the surface again and again. There seem to be consistent threads woven through our work/life tapestry, and one of the roles of a Professional Supervisor is to pick out those threads, and gently tease out the details with their supervisee"
Seeing patterns – the work of a Professional Supervisor
Dr Jules Dickinson October 2018
Supervision has been fundamental to my professional practice for longer than I care to remember. In 2004 I saw Clare Shard, an interpreter working in mental health, give an inspirational presentation about supervision at ASLI Conference in Manchester. I was left with a real gut feeling of ‘this is for me’ and subsequently joined a local supervision group (facilitated by a psychotherapist), along three other interpreters. Out of all of the training and professional development I have undertaken during my career, supervision has had the most transformative impact on my interpreting practice. Fast forward to 2018, and I have been now practicing as a Professional Supervisor for approximately 3 years, after qualifiying with 360 Supervision.Read on...
As both a provider and recipient of supervision I have been struck by the way in which the same issues rise to the surface again and again. There are consistent threads woven through our work/life tapestry, and one of the roles of a Professional Supervisor is to pick out those threads, and gently tease out the details with their supervisee.
So what have I noticed, in my own practice and that of my supervisees? The three threads I have identified and would like to briefly highlight here are: shame; fear of being ‘found out’ (imposter syndrome); and self-doubt. These threads intertwine and are inextricably linked – for example, if you are trying to stay afloat in a pool of self-doubt you will struggle to hang on to the lifeline of validation and praise offered by a colleague. Let’s look at these threads and see how we might re-work them.
The feeling of not being ‘good enough’ is rooted in shame and is an issue that comes up repeatedly in supervision. An ‘intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging’ (Brown 2008:5), shame means we see ourselves as damaged or defective, believing that there is ‘something wrong with us’ (Hewson 2008: 35). It is a feeling which can have a negative impact on interpersonal behaviour, and is a deeply-rooted emotion that can be hard to address. Through the supervision process, a supervisor can work with a supervisee to help them understand the origins of shame, whose shame it is, and how to develop professional resilience to shame. Talking about shame reinforces the message that it’s not ‘just you’, and so reduces the power that shame holds over us (Dickinson, 2017).
The feeling of being a fraud or imposter has been described by many supervisees and it is a feeling that I have also experienced. I spent many years post-qualification, waiting for the door to open during an interpreting assignment and for someone to say, “we’ve reviewed your interpreting video evidence and we’ve made a mistake!”. Where does this fear of being exposed, of being judged and found wanting, originate from? For me, the answer lies partly with the piecemeal qualification system for BSL/English interpreters, where there is no single qualification route that is widely recognised. Regardless of where the feeling originates, it is important to acknowledge its self-destructive quality. If we don’t believe in ourselves, how can we engender trust in others? Importantly, what are we saying about the people who tell us we are good enough? If we continue to insist that we are not good practitioners, we are effectively invalidating the skills and opinions of our assessors and colleagues. It says something about how we see other people – we are disavowing them, they are not good enough either.
Many interpreters, myself included, appear to have considerable doubts about their skills and abilities. This obviously has a huge impact on self-confidence, and much of my work with supervisees focuses on how we can build their faith in their professional performance. This thread is closely linked to perfectionism and the questions we need to ask ourselves are: what do you need from yourself to accept that you are good enough; who do you have to be perfect for; who is setting the standards you are trying to reach; and whose expectations are you trying to live up to? If we start to look at some of those questions, we can set the bar at a more realistic and achievable level, rather than consistently failing to meet impossible self-determined targets. A key action here is to consider how we hear and hold validation from others. It is my experience that we are all too ready to hear criticism and take it to heart, but we are quick to dismiss any praise, affirmation or positive comments. Working with a supervisor can help to develop ways of really hearing the ‘good stuff’. We look at how it feels when other people validate our work and what our reactions are. We discuss what stops us hearing those positives. Finally, we explore where positive comments ‘land’ and how we can hold on to them.
As a Professional Supervisor, I am required to have supervision for my supervision practice. This is an invaluable source of support, as it ensures that I am accountable for my practice and enables me to discuss any thorny and challenging issues. All of the patterns I have described here emerge from time to time during my own supervision sessions. I would like to acknowledge the skill of my supervisor in drawing out my feelings and thoughts, and in building my courage to be a ‘good enough’ supervisor, interpreter, and human being.
Brown, B. (2008). I thought it was just me (but it isn’t). New York: Gotham Books.
Dickinson, J. (2018). No shame on you. Newsli, Issue 103
Hewson, J. (2008). ‘Passionate Supervision: A Wider Landscape’. In Shohet, R. (ed.) Passionate Supervision. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. pp. 34-47.
Dr Jules Dickinson
PhD, Professional Supervisor, FASLI, RSLI
"In a professional supervision session, I find myself encouraged and guided to delve more deeply into my own reactions to consider both what impact my presence could be having on the dynamics of work situations, and what effect the dynamics are having on me."
Professional Supervision - A Personal Journey
Mariella Reina September 2018
It has been a good number of years since I qualified as a BSL/English interpreter and yet I never cease to be amazed about the ongoing breadth of capacity for development and growth that is an enduring feature of this job. Of course the practical elements of working effectively between languages is a vast area of exploration in itself, but the less tangible inter/intra-personal dynamics can have a huge bearing on how successful or otherwise any assignment might be and yet can easily be overlooked.Read on...
I distinctly remember how very curious and interested I was when I read the advert for the 360 Supervision Diploma in Supervision. Here was a course offering something quite new for interpreters – a practice that is usually thought of in terms of professions like therapy or social work, etc. The idea of placing real focus on the subtleties within our work and the effects the dynamics can have on us seemed both fascinating and important to me.When the opportunity arose to be a ‘guinea-pig’ supervisee for one of the trainee supervisors, to say I was keen is something of an understatement! I wanted to know more about what this practice entailed.
My only experience of being supervised was through line management when I was an employed interpreter. This would take the form of addressing procedural matters, with any time left used to discuss my work concerns and being offered advice and support –more in a mentoring style. It was useful, although limited in enabling me to develop my own resources. I found being professionally supervised enabled me to think differently, to ask myself more useful questions, to find alternate perspectives. In a profession where we often feel hampered by a lack of agency, one of the notable benefits is that I have felt more in control as a professional within my work.
Of course I have always reflected on my work, both alone and with my peers. This has sustained me to a degree, but I now recognise that this tends to be surface level exploration. The suggestions and corroboration from colleagues when talking supportively with each other, whilst being reassuring and helpful in the moment has limitations in terms of one’s development and growth. In a professional supervision session, I find myself encouraged and guided to delve more deeply into my own reactions to consider both what impact my presence could be having on the dynamics of work situations, and what effect the dynamics are having on me.
Having experienced the benefits first hand, as soon as the 360 training came up again, I felt that tug. The time and financial commitment made me undecided, so I spoke to a couple of colleagues who had been trained as part of the first cohort to find out their views on the course - hearing consistently glowing praise about all aspects of the course convinced me that it was absolutely the right thing for me. It was a priority and so I made some changes to other commitments in my life to ensure I had the space to fully accommodate and commit to the course. The investment was considerable, but the reward was far greater.
Being truly self-aware takes courage and honesty. The subjective nature of ‘knowing thyself’ can trip us up and cause us to be slightly deluded in truly recognising how we come across to others. Training to become a supervisor pushed me to hold a mirror up and get to know me, Mariella: the interpreter, the woman, the daughter, the partner, and all the other facets of who I am more intimately – warts and all! The journey was revelatory as we were immersed in experiential learning, and inevitably at some points it was uncomfortable, as acknowledging certain aspects of who you are can stir unexpected emotions. Any discomfort was offset by the huge reward of new insight gained. Ultimately this depth of understanding of oneself provides you with a strong foundation upon which you can build the skills and techniques necessary to be an effective supervisor.
The journey is ongoing as I continue to experience the benefits of being supervised, and equally as a supervisor I have the pleasure of seeing growth occurring in others that I work with. Professional supervision is a powerful resource which has the potential to raise and maintain standards within the BSL/English Interpreting profession. With meaningful reflection embedded in our practice we become more accountable to ourselves about our work, and we are enabled to become resourceful and resilient with better decision-making skills at our fingertips.
Professional Supervisor Diploma in Supervision 2018 www.interpretingbsl.com
"With the majority of sign language interpreters being freelance practitioners, working mostly in isolation, we rarely have opportunities to offload or explore issues arising from our work in any meaningful way."
How Supervision chose me.
Andy Gregory. August 2018
With the majority of sign language interpreters being freelance practitioners, working mostly in isolation, we rarely have opportunities to offload or explore issues arising from our work in any meaningful way. In my experience, when we do offload, it tends to be either to people close to us personally, who have no understanding of what we do or why we are not leaving work issues at work, or trusted colleagues who may feel obliged to offer support by validating our thinking and actions because they may not want, or know how, to challenge us and encourage further exploration of the issue. Read on...
With professional supervision not being mandatory in our profession, many interpreters’ experience of it relates to line management supervision, if they happen to have been part of an employed, in-house interpreting team. Supervision in this context often prioritises the day-to-day business of the team, with opportunities for support and development only incorporated into sessions if time allows and, even then, will usually be led by suggestions from the line manager, rather than involving any kind of guided reflection.
Finding myself as a freelance interpreter and a member of a peer group with other interpreters where the focus was very much on socialising and support, rather than professionalism and challenge, I took responsibility for my own development, which included attending workshops run by 360 Supervision. On seeing a Diploma in Supervision advertised by the same provider, although I did not understand fully what professional supervision would entail, my interest was piqued as I knew that I wanted to engage in it in some way. When the suggestion to my peer group that we might benefit from facilitation and more structure to our sessions was met with a lukewarm reception, that was the incentive I needed to apply for the Diploma course – still not really knowing what it would mean. Read on...
It had not occurred to me to find my own supervisor but, thankfully, this was a pre-requisite of joining the course and a random encounter resulted in me making contact with one of the graduates from the first cohort of the Diploma in Supervision course who was happy to take me on.
When considering what my image of successful supervision might be, I was aware of a desire for support, challenge and space to reflect on and explore my practice further, but had assumed that my supervisor would simply give me the benefit of her experience as an interpreter and offer solutions, or a range of options for me to consider, regarding any issues I was struggling with. As it turned out, supervision was going to require me to give a lot more of myself than I had anticipated…and the Diploma course even more so!
As far as supervision goes, I had thought about the ‘what’, but not considered the ‘how’, so the process of supervision was very different from my expectations. I arrived for my first session with plenty of content: two direct questions that I just wanted the ‘right’ answers for; a skills issue (an occasional mental block with understanding fingerspellings, that I had previously taken to a mentor); and a couple of scenarios for discussion.
What actually happened was that both questions were directed straight back to me and I explored options and came up with solutions I felt comfortable with. Rather than focusing on the actual fingerspelling skill - my mentor had suggested getting hold of skills development DVDs, watching online clips and getting myself booked onto a one-day course covering this issue – my supervisor, picking up on the word “occasional” in my description of the issue, identified it was not a skills issue and, instead, focused on me, asked me to monitor the occasions when the mental block happens and do a ‘body check’ – ask myself, “How am I today? Am I tired or stressed?” etc. That, right there, for me was the difference between mentoring and supervision.
Regarding the scenarios, I was challenged every time I stated, as fact, what somebody present was thinking about me or feeling at the time, as well as experiencing a ‘funnelling technique’, where my supervisor picked up on key words and phrases I was unconsciously repeating, followed by probing questions to open me up and get to the real heart of the matter. It was so strange hearing my own words come back at me in the form of a challenge, but crucial in encouraging me to identify how I wanted to address the situation. Even though there were some strong challenges, it was done in a non-judgemental way with a balance of support and challenge from a person who held authority in the session but was not authoritarian. Supervision appeared to be about support, accountability and also have an educative function.
All of the above in my first hour of professional supervision, which was followed by some serious reflection on how I had managed to do without this for two years as a freelancer!
Some further reading.