TM2: Heidy Gutiérrez

Translating Trauma: Health-Interpreting Performances in the Phases of Survival and Adjustment of Refugees

Heidy Gutiérrez

University of Ottawa

The American Psychological Association (2000) and the Oxford Dictionary of Psychology agree with the terms of the following definition: post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that can occur following the experience of or witnessing a life-threatening event such as military combats, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, torture, physical or sexual assault.

This definition contrasts with the one suggested by Renos Papadopoulus (2000) especially when it comes to war-related or natural devastating events, after which communities are displaced from their territories and become refugees. In his studies on asylum seekers, he and his team have found out that the traditional definition given to PTSD focuses on the actual moment of experiencing or witnessing the devastating event and its psychological effects. However, in what is called “the Refugee Experience”, the author acknowledges that the phase of devastating events is in fact a phase that can trigger trauma, and he identifies four phases that can potentially cause trauma: (1) anticipation, (2) the devastating event(s), (3) survival, and (4) adjustment.

Mental health interpreting scholars have different opinions regarding the approach interpreters should take in these situations, namely in phases 3 and 4 when refugees endure difficult conditions, undergo uncertainty and confusion, and make big efforts to fit in a new environment. Some scholars claim that interpreters should translate as faithfully as possible, so that it is the analyst –not the interpreter– who performs the interpretation of patients’ narratives.  On the other hand, other scholars claim that the interpreter should adopt an engaged performance that facilitates a more comfortable atmosphere for the patient.

Based on community interpreting theory and on interviews with healthcare providers and interpreters, this contribution aims at: (1) describing the effects of trauma on linguistic abilities and expression, and (2) comparing two approaches to health interpreting.

Key words: health interpreting, faithfulness, mediation, trauma, refugees.

Bio: Heidy Gutiérrez is a PhD candidate in Translation Studies at the University of Ottawa.  She has worked as a lecturer at three Colombian universities and has experience as a translator with the Institute of Tropical Medicine (LatinChronicNetwork / SWIHPS Network) in Antwerp and as a community interpreter with IWSO in Ottawa. She holds a master’s degree in Education and has studies of Philosophy from Universidad de Antioquia in Colombia. In her master’s research, she studied Paul Ricoeur and his reflections on alterity, language, ethics, and meaning.

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