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.



NUBSLI Dossier of Disgrace

Yet another brilliant piece of work by NUBSLI: A dossier cataloging the disaster that is National Framework Agreements for interpreting services in the UK.

This makes grim reading and is a stark reminder of what life is like for those receiving interpreting services via an agency, whether you’re Deaf or a professional trying to deliver a service. And highlights what it is like working on the ground as a Sign Language Interpreter.

If you haven’t read this yet, here’s a reminder. Stick it down as CPD and start talking and campaigning about the recommendations.

DSA Survey – respond now!

Another consultation related post and one you must have heard of by now. It has been posted everywhere. It is SO important, I’m reposting.

DSA and student funding is a hot topic right now. Whether you work with students or not, fill it in. We can’t sit back and hear or experience problems without saying something.

Deaf or hard of hearing and in Uni, use a CSW or interpreter, started in 2016 or 2017 and study full time? Fill out this part of the survey. BSL translations available.

We hear of problems all the time. Make them known to the excellent research team leading this and get these problems raised.

Research led by Frances Lewin at University College London with Prof Chloe Marshall and Dr Robert Adam.

DV: Tell the MoJ what you think of its interpreting contract…

Recently the excellent DeafHope team (Domestic Violence (DV) service supporting Deaf women experiencing or who have experienced DV) published a BSL (British Sign Language) clip asking people to take part in the Home Office (and Ministry of Justice) consultation on Domestic Violence.

As the video points out Deaf people can suffer worse from the journey by a lack of access to services. It may take them more time to be referred to the DeafHope service which is specialist. Deaf women can often be turned away from a refuge due a lack of Deaf access equipment (such as vibrating fire alarms, flashing light doorbells). Booking of interpreters may be refused from services such as police, courts, local DV service, CAB, housing, council services and social servies. Social workers may display a complete lack of Deaf awareness in how Deaf women communicate and relate to their children. This has sometimes also resulted in care proceedings and in the worst cases, children being taken away from parents.

One of the main issues is the MoJ (Ministry of Justice) contract for interpreting, which was the trigger for starting this blog some 6 years ago, and it has been awful. In that time we’ve seen a spoken language agency take the whole contract on and fail miserably. Cases adjourned, quality of service reduced and a reduction in fees (which has exacerbated the first two issues mentioned).

At least in the second generation contract BSL was taken out of the main contract and put in the “non-spoken” languages part although I think the damage has been done and I’ve seen nothing to suggest any improvements. Due to the reduction in fees, court interpreting which should attract the best now (generally) lures in the newly qualified and less experienced. Deaf professionals have reported incidents of seeing appalling interpreting where their clients do not understand the court proceedings.

With relation to DV this can lead to cases being adjourned, leaving Deaf people at a disadvantage waiting for their case to be heard. Perpetrators have benefited from this or have claimed not to understand the interpreter, resulting in getting charges dropped. Deaf women and men should not have to receive a lesser service from the departments that the Home Office and Ministry of Justice oversee, resulting in society level discrimination. We might not be able to wave magic wands but interpreters and Deaf people… (or any friend of Deaf people), have your say and respond to the consultation before 31st May. Scroll down, click on the blue box and if you want to respond in relation to Deaf people only you can click “Supporting victims with specific needs”.

It is an irony that one MoJ contract is affecting vital services for Deaf people experiencing DV and that the Home Office (and MoJ) has initiated this consultation. Tell them so please.

Who Benefits from the Privatisation of Public Sector Interpreting?

Three recent blog posts from Aisha Maniar, a human rights activist and writer, are absolutely brilliant. They’re informative, comprehensive and offer us an insight into the whole history of the pitfalls of privatising interpreting services and the government’s incessant drive to do so.

For BSL/English Interpreters it is so important that we understand the context and politics of what happens to the contracts we are booked under, that we join a union (NUBSLI) and support our counterparts: spoken language interpreters.

I re-blog the articles here for anyone who may not have seen them yet. They really are worthy of your time, please read.

Who Benefits from the Privatisation of Public Sector Interpreting? Part I

Who Benefits from the Privatisation of Public Sector Interpreting? Part II

Who Benefits from the Privatisation of Public Sector Interpreting? Part III

Who set up NUBSLI? Nicky Evans!

Written by Jen Smith

I got some credit recently at the ASLI 30th conference for some very important work that actually… I didn’t do. So let’s give credit where credit is due and set the record straight.

I didn’t establish NUBSLI. The utterly brilliant Nicky Evans did (see pic!), with support from Wes Mehaffy and a handful of other interpreters who understood the need for a union.

I’ll tell the story of how Nicky came to set up the union but firstly let’s get this out of the way. What did I do when I was part of the ASLI board? I helped run ASLI, in accordance with its aims and objectives as a professional association. That is what you do when you’re duty bound as a Director of an association.

I did some really great pieces of work like save the association £20k on the office contract and supported some working groups and regions alongside budgetary and governance decisions.

The confusion comes as, like other members of Unite the Union, as soon as Nicky Evans set up NUBSLI, I transferred my membership across from the branch of NUPIT (National Union of Professional Interpreters and Translators) to the one specifically for BSL/English Interpreters. I’d been a member of NUPIT since 2010 after the shambolic MoJ contract. Four years of Union membership and finally a branch for my specific field!

As a believer and supporter of unions, of collective action and with an understanding of politics I understand how we as interpreters must be political to influence those that effectively pay the majority of our wage. Government staff put in place policies and contracts that can shape the worlds of interpreters and Deaf people, for better or worse. Usually the latter, and there needs to be input from a strong Union, professional associations and organisations such as the BDA. I knew the importance of unions but it wasn’t me that established NUBSLI.

Just prior to my leaving the ASLI board, after three years of hard work, I wanted ASLI to endorse NUBSLI in some way. Or to at least acknowledge the importance of its existence. This wasn’t forthcoming and there was a lot of confusion at the time about the role of unions, why interpreters even needed one and why NUBSLI would do work already being done by a professional association.

Professional associations are much better placed to work on standards, education, supporting members. Collectivism is not something I ever wanted ASLI to do. Just state support for the right organisation to do that: NUBSLI.

There was an ASLI board meeting, decisions about NUBSLI that I’d brought up were categorically made on the basis of facts that weren’t actually true. And I was on holiday. Amongst all of that I left having seen my viewpoint completely misunderstood and had seen Nicky and Wes’s work as Access to Work CoChairs effectively blocked and her being forced to stand down. It was a board I no longer felt part of, one that lacked fundamental understanding with an ethos I disagreed with that had started to pervade every decision.

Sad? Yes. But within weeks I’d attended NUBSLI’s very first meeting and was asked to stick my hand up to be Chair. The first committee was formed and weren’t we a team! To date, it was the most productive, proactive, prolific work I have ever done as part of a committee who learnt quick, worked hard and let nothing get in our way. Nicky Evans, YOU set up NUBSLI and I salute you.

So this is Nicky’s story as I understand it and in my words. The facts have been checked…

As the Access to Work CoChair of ASLI, Nicky, saw the profession being eroded by government decisions that were affecting our work and the service that Deaf people were getting from us. Deaf people’s claims were revoked and slashed. Blanket decisions were made and with no strong Deaf or interpreter input everyone was suffering at the whims of the DWP. Deaf people’s work suffered. StopChanges2AtW brought Deaf and disabled people together to campaign with interpreters, but there was no effective work being done by the interpreting community.

Nicky mentioned these problems to a barrister she was working with as part of the StopChanges2AtW campaign. What you don’t have a union? You better get one.

She mentioned it in passing to a taxi driver. No Union? Best get in one and if you don’t, set one up.

She mentioned it to a political campaign group. No Union? We’ll help you set it up.

Unite the Union it was. Nicky did a lot of leg work, had lots of meetings and got support from the black taxi driver’s union branch (also mostly freelancers) and her political contacts who included inspiring campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC).

This was all before it got raised at any ASLI forum or meeting. NUBSLI was born out of political need. I just happened to stick my hand in the air and become NUBSLI’s first Chair. I didn’t establish it, Nicky Evans did. Let’s give her the credit she so well deserves.

Being away…


This blog has been inactive for a while as I’ve been completing my Masters (got a distinction), volunteering for NUBSLI (brilliant experience, stood down to go on maternity leave) and had my second child (now a year ago). I currently have other family commitments too. All of this plus the complexities of being a working mum, leaves little spare time.

I’ve left the blog up as the articles mostly represent a historical record of the failed 2011 Ministry of Justice interpreting contract from my perspective as a Sign Language Interpreter. Although this was the main impetus for starting this blog, articles have covered the creeping privatisation of our work from around that time, problems with Access to Work funding, issues with fees, NUBSLI’s work, membership organisations, the problems of regulatory/registration bodies and the general state of our profession.

Will there be more writing to come? There is much I have missed over the last year or so that I may well come back to write about but for now the blog stays up as it is. Before I write any more posts, I am committed to canvassing for the Labour party leading up to the general election in June which takes up much of my remaining spare time!