in supervision

Supervision: Self-care for Interpreters


Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

If you ask an interpreter if they get supervision, of the facilitated-by-a-qualified-supervisor type, their response usually fits into one of three broad categories:

  • Yes I absolutely love it
  • I’ve been meaning to organise it but haven’t got round to it. By the way, what do you think I should do about…
  • No I really don’t need it/see the point but you know I did something the other day and what do you think about…

I really do not mind listening to other interpreters but I have had days where I go home a bit drained from squeezing other people’s issues into my breaks and downtime. There is a proper time and place and I’d rather talk about kids, comedy, holidays or, ahem, politics.
We’re talking about clinical supervision here for professionals, not line management and targets. This is self-care at work and afterwards. There are a few different types of supervision, ASLI has a good guide. I’ve tried them all. The most suitable one for me by far is individual facilitated supervision.

Group supervision by an external supervisor has meant spending a lot of time explaining what interpreters actually do to a supervisor/facilitator who does not really get it. One group I attended which had been running for a long time was useful due to the knowledge of the facilitator and their outside perspective but I wanted something different. I know of some brilliant groups out there that really work for those attending.

Peer groups can be useful if chaired well, people commit to bringing something to the group and a true sharing of knowledge and experience can happen. There are too many though that have ended up turning into a chat, or worse: a moan-fest. Good groups may work well but I don’t think they can replace what quality clinical facilitated supervision can do. A good point, made by my Supervisor, is that within a peer group there is the tendency to just affirm rather than explore and challenge.

For around six years I’ve been doing a fair bit of regular work in mental health and domestic violence. I probably hit burn out three years ago but have found it hard to acknowledge. It snuck up and hit me over the head. I’m still in a funny place when it comes to interpreting, I’ve retrained too and I’m juggling different areas of work. I’m working through this and supervision is a saviour. It was also life/soul saving when I had three horrible events to deal with (another blogpost sometime). The moral of that story is you never know when something is going to happen. Book in supervision now BEFORE you think you need it.

My journey over the last year is nothing short of remarkable. It has been affirming, settling, a saviour in bad times, a period of growth and reflection and a realisation of a maturity of practice.

I’ve been referring to supervision in the form of a noun but due credit needs to go to my very excellent, wonderfully brilliant Supervisor. Their benevolent presence pops up on FaceTime every six weeks and all is well. There they are to talk through our complex work, the variety of people and personalities we come across and the horrible stuff we sometimes witness.

Last year was a terrible interpreting year for me with some heavy stuff I could not talk about with anybody else on top of coming out of a tough personal time. We already had trust embedded in our conversations and were working through my thoughts and feelings about the profession so undoubtedly I was better able to cope with the horrible stuff that was to come up a few months after starting. On top of dealing with life/me/interpreting/the Deaf community and how it all fits together, I never fail to come away with a nugget of wisdom about all of this and the situations we find ourselves in. Through our collaborative discussions and the supervisory process, there are PhDs worth of wisdom in these sessions that could be further explored. I would never get this space for reflection over a rushed coffee break and for that I am supremely grateful.

There are a number of Supervisors who’ve been through the 360 Supervision course set up by the brilliant combination of two clever people: Interpreter, Ali Hetherington and Psychotherapist, Cathy Davey. It sounds excellent and I can think of many quite brilliant interpreters who would make wonderful Supervisors too. If you haven’t yet managed to get on one of their CPD courses, I highly recommend it. I was quite emotional all the way through their Work-related stress, Vicarious Trauma and Burnout one due to a lot of the above but that is another story and do not let it put you off. You’ll likely come away with many take away messages and arm yourself much better to the vagaries of our profession.

A few take home messages here for those yet to jump into the warm waters of supervision:

At the start of a supervisory journey there is sometimes a lack of certainty about the process but bear with and results will follow.
Supervision matters at whatever stage of your career – just qualified, in your comfort zone, ten years plus at risk of burn out or if you’ve been around much longer.

And lastly an opinion: I think you can tell the difference between those who have supervision and those that do not. It is confidence Vs uncertainty, reflective Vs not, humble Vs arrogant, and contained Vs uncontained. So much better to be the former in our current profession.

360 Supervision start a new Diploma in Supervision in September 2019 and you can apply now. CPD courses and Supervision taster days available.
Labyrinth Supervision has a list of Supervisors. You can also find Supervisors via ASLI.
Institute of Group Analysis is an interesting form of analysis if you prefer groups.