The principal role of an interpreter in the mental health setting is to support the relationship between both practitioner and the patient through interpreting important health information to each party, resulting in better health communication. Most importantly the role of the interpreter in a mental health setting is to be the message converter for both parties.

The role of the interpreter within this mental health setting is very strict. The interpreter will:

  • Listen to what the practitioner says and convey this message back to the patient, repeating the original message accurately and completely in another language without adding, omitting, or changing key information or intended meaning using the ‘Linguistic model’ of interpreting. They may use a dictionary for clarification or to confirm the correct words are used. They can make notes to keep up with the messages being interpreted. (If notes are used these should be given to the practitioner at the end of the appointment).
  • Inform the practitioner of any culturally-based differences in terms or concepts that may lead to misunderstanding by any of the parties. As covered in the ‘Cultural Influences’ section of this document, in different cultures, words can have different meanings.
  • Never give advice or their opinions when in an appointment. The interpreter will be aware that they should not make judgements outside of their expertise, for example they should never suggest that the treatment/service is not appropriate to the patient.
  • Equally, you should never ask the interpreter for their opinions on a patient as this goes beyond their line of requirements. You are able to ask for cultural or religious clarifications and what the interpreter believes on this subject area, but asking for an opinion on a patient’s health status is not acceptable as the interpreter has been trained to be objective in this setting. Interpreters understand that there may be multiple cultural understandings and their viewpoint is not a statement of fact. In this case as the practitioner, you may choose to discount it.
  • Follow strict confidentiality agreements when being provided with patient health information. Whatever is discussed in the appointment should not be mentioned outside of the appointment or to any other parties. Interpreters are not permitted to mention previous contexts that they have interpreted for the patient or the content of those discussions. Although it would be appropriate for them to say they have acted as an interpreter for them before.

Another role of the interpreter in the mental health care setting is to be a message clarifier. As a clarifier, interpreters watch for possible words, concepts or ambiguous messages that may lead to misunderstanding or confusion for any of the parties. The interpreter should intervene when they feel they need an explanation or simplification of a word or concept, or to confirm understanding of anything the practitioner is saying. Where a diagnostic category or piece of psychiatric or psychological jargon is used (e.g. post-traumatic stress disorder), it is vital the interpreter is asked to say this word in English first. The Practitioner should then explain the meaning of the jargon in plain English.

You should be aware that often when a patient is communicating through an interpreter, any anger that is formed through the questions asked during the appointment, will often be aimed at the interpreter as they are the ones conveying the messages.

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