Medical Interpreters: Give Yourself Some Now Space

Last autumn I attended a class (Mental Illness in Children and Adolescents) presented by the Fox Valley chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness during which one of the presenters, Doug Bisbee, MDiv, MAC, LPC, spoke about the “temporal squeeze” in reference to anxiety (future oriented) and depression (past oriented) and the pressure (squeeze) that either places on a person’s mental well-being.

Allotting too much space to the past or the future doesn’t give enough space for the person to be in the present, which is the only place any person ever exists.

Temporal Squeeze_Tight

Any person, including medical interpreters, can feel the effects of the squeeze from time to time or more regularly. The squeeze takes its toll and can contribute to professional burnout.

How often do we contribute to our own burnout by living in the past?

Why didn't that patient just take his medicine?

Why did that doctor do x-y-z?

Interpreting at this hospital was so much better under the old administration.

How often do we contribute to our own burnout by living in the future?

I wonder if the patient will take his medicine.

I wonder if the new physician is going to know how to work with interpreters.

I wonder how the changes in hospital administration will impact my job security.

In the meantime, you’re getting pummeled by the here and now. And the "here and now" is a constantly changing roller coaster.

You go to an appointment for a routine 4-year-old physical that results in a call to child protective services.

You expected to have 3 appointments in the morning and 4 more get added to your schedule.

Your manager messages you about an end-of-day team meeting that just got scheduled.

And what was it that the doctor just said???

It’s exhausting. Getting through the day requires skills that go beyond language conversion and memory recall. It’s not an environment that suits everyone. Even those who started out thriving early on in their career end up enduring, and then say “enough.”

There are many factors that contribute to the burnout of medical interpreters. Putting yourself in a temporal squeeze is one of them.

I’m not advocating for forgetting the past or ignoring the future, but rather to keep it all in perspective. Take on what you can handle. You can only be in one place at a time and one time at a time. Give yourself enough “now” space.

Temporal Squeeze_Space