Interpreters’ Experiences of Transferential Dynamics, Vicarious Traumatisation, and Their Need for Support and Supervision: A Systematic Literature Review

Emma Darroch, Raymond Dempsey


Using thematic analysis, this systematic review aimed to explore sign language interpreters’ experiences of transferential dynamics and vicarious trauma. The notion of transferential dynamics, such as transference and countertransference, originate from psychodynamic therapy and refer to the mutual impact that client and therapist have on one another (Chessick, 1986). Psychodynamic models of therapy are predominantly concerned with unconscious processes and theorise that such processes have a powerful influence over an individuals’ thoughts, feelings and behaviours (Howard, 2011). In contrast to countertransference, which is a immediate response to a particular client, vicarious trauma is thought to develop as a result of continuous exposure to, and engagement across, many therapeutic interactions (Pearlman & Saakvitne, 1995a). A search of the available literature uncovered a striking lack of literature into the experiences of sign language interpreters, and in all, only two of the 11 identified empirical studies addressed sign language interpreters. The vast majority of the literature analysed reflected the experiences of spoken language interpreters. The results indicate that interpreters experience transferential dynamics as part of their work as well as suggesting the presence of vicarious trauma among interpreters. Additionally, a unique contribution to the fields of interpreting and psychology is offered, as it is consistently demonstrated that ‘service providers’ and ‘mental health workers’, which are umbrella terms for psychologists, immensely under-estimate the role of interpreters, as they fail to consider the emotional impact of their work and ignore the linguistic complexities of translation by failing to appreciate their need for information in order to ensure an effective translation.


sign language interpreters; vicarious trauma; transferential dynamics; supervision; equal access; psychological therapy