A Way to Understand Interpreters Working With Refugees in New Zealand. Exploring the Meaning of Doing Interpreting

Britz, Philip
Smythe, Liz
Spence, Deb
Nayar, Shoba
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

This study seeks to understand the ‘lived’ experience of interpreters and clinicians working with clients who are refugees. Using a hermeneutic phenomenological method, informed by Heidegger [1889-1976] and Gadamer [1900-2002], this study offers insights into the experience of working through an interpreter with refugees. It reveals how it is to be the interpreter, and how what the client ‘says’ is invited, received, understood, and translated. The twelve study participants included four registered interpreters, a registered mental health nurse, one health psychologist, two educational psychologists, two clinical psychologists, and two body therapists (neuromuscular therapy). Participants’ narratives of their experiences of working with refugees were captured via interviews which were audio taped and transcribed. These stories uncovered the everyday realities facing clinicians and interpreters and provide an ontological understanding of their experience of working and communicating, through interpreting, with refugees. The findings of this study suggest that the interpreters ‘care’ [Sorge] for their refugee communities and will go beyond their call of duty to interpret. Ethnic communities are small and everybody knows each other. As a result, there can be tensions for both client and interpreter in telling/knowing too much. Interpreters can be deeply impacted by the stories they hear; they need an opportunity to debrief. Clinicians first need to build a relationship with the interpreter before they can effectively work together. Similarly, clients need to trust the interpreter before they will tell their story. Thus, building effective relationships is crucial. The interpreters understand much more than the ‘words’ spoken. They grasp the cultural nuances which hold much ‘knowing’. A wise clinician makes room and space to ‘hear’ this knowing. The experience of communicating and connecting with refugees through interpreting has been revealed in this thesis. Furthermore, this study has uncovered that clinicians and interpreters bring different concerns and notions to the experience of interpreting and that these may be hidden from each other. This thesis argues that it is time for the larger system to provide greater recognition and support to the interpreters in their endless caring for, and about, the vulnerable client.

Interpreters , Refugees , Hermeneutic Phenomenology , Clinical setting
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