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Self-Care & Sign Language Interpreters: 8 Ways to Ease Trauma

Self-Care & Sign Language Interpreters

The work of a sign language interpreter requires patience, compassion, flexibility, and a heart of service. Breana Cross-Caldwell provides some tips for self-care to help keep the work more sustainable.

You know what it’s like: you show up to an assignment or accept a call that, in the beginning, seems to be going one direction and suddenly takes a turn. You come out of the interaction feeling shaken, disoriented, sad/troubled/frustrated, and are scheduled to make your way to the next.

This is the life of a sign language interpreter.

We are charged with bearing witness to some of life’s greatest beauty and deepest pain, all while maintaining a stance of neutrality and flexibility. As Babetta Popoff said during a presentation on Compassion Fatigue,  

“We are first responders, who cannot respond.”

What can we do to care for ourselves after these difficult situations so that we can continue to do our job in integrity and alignment the next hour, day, and year?

[View post in ASL.]

Here are eight ideas to add to your toolbox:

Shake it off. Literally, shake your whole body. The reptilian part of your brain (think fight or flight) is able to release and reset by shaking. Watch any dog who’s just been in a tussle, you’ll see. Find a private-ish, quietish space (bathroom, VRS station, broom closet), and shake from head to toe, every part of your body that’s able to move. While you’re at it, do some deep forceful exhales and add a little vocalization to them.

Tune in. Sitting or standing in a comfortable position, close your eyes. Take a few deep, slow, easy breaths, and start to notice what happens in your body when you imagine the stressful scenario you just witnessed. Maybe your stomach or jaw tenses up, maybe your heart starts to race, maybe you feel a sinking feeling in your chest or a lump in your throat. Whatever it is, just notice it and let it be there without trying to avoid or resist it.

Take an emotional inventory. Name any emotion that’s present (keeping a feelings list in your bag can be helpful when you’re working on taking better care of yourself). Before you skip over this one, claiming it’s woo-woo fluff, hear me out: these emotions are present in you, whether you name them or not. They are there, sitting like a lump of coal in your stomach. They are the cause of chronic stress which leads to burnout and eventually to disease. Dis-ease: being without ease in the body. This is important stuff, friends. Naming these emotions allows us to get one step closer to dealing with them above-board, which then allows us to truly release them and do our jobs well.

Taproot. Here’s where we find the juicy stuff, the gold at the end of the rainbow if you will. It might not seem like it right now, but trust me. Once you name an emotion, dig down to its root where you’ll find a belief. Make a list of the beliefs that are at the root of your emotions. For example: say I was feeling despair and a disturbing pit in my stomach. I might dig down and realize that I’m feeling this way because I believe no one should be treated the way I just witnessed a human being treated. That belief is at the root of my feeling so yucky. You might uncover your beliefs by tuning into the narrator in your brain who’s interpreting the events around you. By bringing these beliefs out into the light, you are able to work with them and decide consciously whether you want them in your operating system or not.

Get out your magnifying glass. Start asking questions about these beliefs, from the perspective of a curious observer. You’re on a quest to discover more about yourself and the way you view the world. This information is infinitely important as a sign language interpreter (our lens/filter/bias/judgments affect our interpretations greatly) AND infinitely important to you as a human who values happiness and health. As you poke around, just make note of your findings. No need to shift or change or do anything about this information yet. Just notice. Some of the questions you may ask yourself at this point:

  • Is this belief true? Is it true all the time, in every situation, for everyone?
  • Is this the way reality works? Can I find evidence that my belief is always upheld in reality? Or is it just the way I wish that reality worked?
  • Is this thought peaceful or stressful? Pure and simple. Am I feeling peace while holding this belief within the context of this situation, or am I feeling stress?
  • Whose business is it? There are three options: it’s my business (I have control over it), it’s another person’s business (another person has control over it), or it’s God/nature/reality/universe’s business (no single human has control over it).

Nancy Berlove says in Where Do We Go From Here? 5 Stages of Change for Sign Language Interpreters

Honest self-inquiry begins when there is a willingness to look at whatever comes up. An opportunity arises when a certain personal trait or habit becomes apparent. At a particular moment, something that I did, thought, or said makes me question my behavior or habit. In bringing my attention to this behavior, I see it more clearly. Recognizing it changes my understanding of the behavior and of myself. It is possible that, over time and with continued attention, the behavior will shift or even be replaced with something more congruent with my sense of self.

Hold compassion for yourself. This is a step that can take lifetimes to master but humor me. Every time you flex this muscle, whether or not you sense any movement, you’re strengthening the neural pathway towards greater happiness and health. One way I do this is by naming my feelings and needs in a tender way, as one might talk to a hurt child. For example: “Wow, Breana, you’re really feeling upset about this person being treated this way. That feels really disorienting and disturbing to you. You wish no person on the planet would ever have to be treated this way.” All of this, with my inside voice, to just be really present and caring with what I’m experiencing. Sometimes, similarly to children, a bit of compassionate listening and empathy can do wonders. We can do that for ourselves!

Take a detoxifying bath. My recipe is equal parts Epsom salt and baking soda, in the hottest water you can stand, with a few drops of tea tree essential oil. This allows your body to move toxins and release them. Make sure you drink plenty of water!

Find gratitude. It’s been a long day. You really rode this wave of discomfort all the way to the shore, and now you’re back on solid ground. Find whatever you can name to be thankful for right now: the soft bed supporting your body, the family or friends who care, the way you showed up for yourself and others today in the midst of difficult emotions. Whatever it is, claim it. Receive it. Don’t let any of that sweetness and beauty escape you. These are the gifts that are yours to cherish. These are the drops that refill your cup, so you can show up tomorrow ready to give again.

What fills you up when work threatens to take you down?

Questions for Consideration

  1. What do you do to care for yourself after a traumatic job?
  2. What are the barriers to healthy processing after difficult assignments? Why don’t we do this more often?
  3. What are the impacts to ourselves and our clients when we don’t deal with our own trauma and difficult emotions after an assignment?
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StreetLeverage: A Story of Thanksgiving


The StreetLeverage story is YOUR story.

There is no way to tell the StreetLeverage story without attempting to identify a large number of people and to review every small, seemingly insignificant act of generosity which, when woven together, creates a multiplier which has compounded these acts into something beautiful.

This generosity opens doors for us to learn, enjoy, and share this work. It allows us to connect with amazingly talented, committed, inspired and inspiring people.

Generosity, large and small, is the connective tissue that binds everything together at StreetLeverage. Every event attendee and volunteer, every fully formulated post and idea shared, and every reader who likes, shares, or tweets ideas to their peers and co-workers, demonstrates that spirit. With each decision, offer, invitation, open door and open mind, a space has been created for opportunity, for discovery, for expanding possibilities in the field of sign language interpreting.

We are grateful to all the individuals who participate in and support the StreetLeverage endeavor. Without your contributions, this task would be insurmountable. 

It is with grateful hearts that StreetLeverage says a hearty and heartfelt, “Thank You!”

Related Posts:

The Power of “Thank You”: Sign Language Interpreters and Gratitude by Jean Miller

Sign Language Interpreters: Discover & Recover an Enduring Legacy by Debra Russell

Sign Language Interpreters and the Karma of Gratitude by Brandon Arthur

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The Power of “Thank You”: Sign Language Interpreters and Gratitude

The Power of Thank You: Sign Language Interpreters and Gratitude

Sincere expressions of gratitude positively impact both giver and receiver. Creating an intentional gratitude practice could benefit sign language interpreters and the field of interpreting.

As the days grow darker with the change of the seasons, there is a sense of despair in many arenas of the sign language interpreting field; rough waters on the national front, a swiftly-changing field of work, expressions of dissatisfaction from those who employ our services the most. It almost feels like the perfect storm. One thought keeps those negative thoughts at bay: could we transform our relationships with the Deaf Community and other sign language interpreters if we expressed our thanks more regularly?

[Click to view post in ASL]

My thoughts here are not original. Brandon Arthur talked about Sign Language Interpreters and the Karma of Gratitude back in 2011. Tammera Richards included the idea in her article, #Doable: How Sign Language Interpreters Restore Relationships with the Deaf Community. If you do a blog search on StreetLeverage, many of the contributors mention gratitude in their articles. It is not a foreign concept, but my sense is that we need to be more intentional, and we need to do more. The darker the time, the more we need the light of our friends and supporters to show us the way.

Upping the Ante

Sometimes, a simple smile, a “hello”, or a friendly wave of acknowledgment when I’m on the phone in my office is enough to make my day. Each of these gestures has made an impact on me, particularly when I might be struggling in some way. When I remember how meaningful it is to receive these expressions of gratitude, it strengthens my resolve to reach out and share them with others.

After the Community Forum at the RID National Conference this year, I did something I rarely do. I approached two of the speakers and thanked them for sharing their stories. For me, that session was the most memorable of the whole conference. I was moved to tears by the courage and strength of those who stood on the stage that night. While I usually convince myself that presenters don’t need to hear me tell them how great they are, I couldn’t contain my gratitude. The conversations that ensued were so heartfelt and so meaningful to me; I carry them with me still. Perhaps it was more beneficial for me than for them, I don’t know. What I do know is that when I walked away that night, I was inspired to be braver. To take more opportunities to thank those who inspire, support, teach and inform my work.

Finding New Mindsets

If I am looking for things to complain about, I will find them. If I am looking for things to be grateful for, those will emerge.” Patti Digh, Be Conscious of Your Treasures1

In 2006, one of my favorite authors, Patti Digh, offered a challenge on her blog: “Create a list of 37 people who have helped you and write just one or two sentences that captures the gift they have given you.”2 I took that challenge and the experience was profound. In 2013, she posted an entry in her web series, “your daily rock” titled, “write a thank you note.” In that short missive, she states:

“For four years now, I have written a thank you note every morning. It has changed how I see the world. I look for opportunities to thank, not opportunities to criticize. It is not new skills we need to change our lives–it is new mindsets.”3

The idea of changing mindsets resonates with me personally, and I have been wondering how it could impact our professional community, as well. I hope you will consider exploring a new mindset with me.

A November Challenge: Show Your Gratitude

As the month of November begins, as Thanksgiving approaches, and as many of us await the findings of the RID Risk Assessment, I’d like to challenge StreetLeverage readers to show your gratitude in a focused, purposeful way.

There are a million ways to show your gratitude. Here are some ideas:

  1. Write a thank you note to one person you worked with the day before and send it or give it to them each day in November.
  2. Donate time or money to a local Deaf Community organization in November.
  3. Write gratitude tweets or Facebook status updates to thank people in your community and/or in your work life each day in November.
  4. Invite someone out for coffee, lunch or dinner who may not be aware of their impact on your career. Tell them about it.
  5. Start a gratitude journal for your work life. Remember why you became a sign language interpreter in the first place. Do it every day of November (and beyond, if it helps).

Not convinced? Here is an article about the benefits of gratitude.

Creating Momentum

I hope you will join me in a month of gratitude. I’d love to hear about your experiences, transformations and epiphanies. I know it won’t solve the problems of our field, but it might be a step toward mending or strengthening relationships and partnerships, which may create the momentum to address some of the larger challenges that lay ahead for practitioners and the field in general. Or, it might just make you feel good.

Questions for Consideration:

  1. What do you think would start to occur within the field if we started to tell each other the things we assume others already know?
  2. How might an abundance of gratitude impact how we see our work, our teams, the people who use our services?
  3. What if, in the absence of explicit gratitude based on the work we produce, sign language interpreters expressed gratitude to each other for being a good team, for taking a challenging assignment, for correcting our mistakes, for taking the lead on a day when we weren’t quite feeling it?
  4. How can we meaningfully express our sincere appreciation to Deaf community members for their patience, guidance, feedback, and their willingness to share their language and culture?


  1. Digh, Patti. “Be Conscious of Your Treasures.” Web log post. 37Days. N.p., 20 Nov. 2006. Web. 31 Oct. 2015.
  2. ibid.
  3. Digh, Patti. “Your Daily Rock: Write a Thank You Note.” Web log post.37Days. N.p., 29 Nov. 2013. Web. 31 Oct. 2015.
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Sign Language Interpreters: A Big StreetLeverage Thank You!

On the first anniversary of StreetLeverage, Brandon Arthur reflects on the past 12 months and takes a moment to thank all who make StreetLeverage possible.

It is surreal to me that this month marks the 12th month that StreetLeverage has been working to amplify the voice of the sign language interpreter. As my mind races in review of the last year, I find myself incredibly grateful for the many people who have encouraged, supported, and contributed to this labor of love.

Readers & Subscribers

To the thousands of you who visit the site each month, thank you. Remaining worthy of your continued attention is the driving force behind the effort to curate and publish quality pieces each week. Your engagement and interest in republishing pieces to your personal networks is amazing. Again, thank you. You are the reason the site exists.

I am keenly interested in your feedback on how to improve the StreetLeverage effort. If you have suggestions on topics, authors, posts and/or how the site can be improved, please send along your feedback. You can do that now by clicking here.


To you courageous souls who have shared your perspectives and insights, thank you. Your 40+ contributions have created a flashpoint of opportunity for readers to be introspective about the important work that they do and the profession and industry to which they belong. It is in your personal accomplishment and a willingness to share that places StreetLeverage among the most visited blogs on sign language interpreting.

Again, thank you for your remarkable contributions.

For those interested in contributing, I welcome the opportunity to discuss possibilities. If you would consider contributing, please contact me by clicking here.

My Family

To my best friend and life partner, Tara, thank you. Without your encouragement StreetLeverage would still be just a concept rolling around in my head. Your unwavering support makes it all possible. Thank you for sacrificing countless hours over the past year as I have attended to the work of sourcing, editing, publishing, and promoting pieces each week. You are far more than I deserve.

Lessons Learned

In a world where the competition for attention is fierce, I am truly grateful for the many people who have taken an interest in StreetLeverage over the past 12 months. Curating the site has been filled with significant learning, the most important of which is that the attention of subscribers and readers is earned. I have also learned that providence will step in to assist if you take the first step.

I look forward to continuing to curate a discussion worthy of your attention.

Again, to everyone who has contributed to the success of StreetLeverage to date, thank you.

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Sign Language Interpreters and the Karma of Gratitude

It is easy to be disheartened by industry and economic challenges. By recognizing mentors and teachers, Brandon Arthur believes the karma of gratitude can lead sign language interpreters through difficult times.

Unemployment, wage reductions, and scant opportunity are just a few things that can describe the last year for sign language interpreters.  I believe it easy, given the industry turmoil, for interpreters to stumble into the trappings of ingratitude.

Who could blame us, its been rough out there.

Calling On Karma

While the industry has been a bit of a roller coaster this year, I wonder if we can improve our circumstances and avoid the pitfall of ingratitude by inviting karma to help us.  It’s worth a try, no?  Let’s try it by expressing our gratitude for a colleague or leader that has made a difference in our career.  To know them is to have been changed for the better.

I’ll start.

Paul Christie

With the exception of my life partner Tara (who is the most amazing person I have ever met and an incredible interpreter to boot), Paul Christie has had a tremendous impact on my career.  He took me under his wing when I was a young and new to the field.  You could say I was more than a little green behind the ears.

During our time working together in the Washington, DC metro area (DC, MD and VA), Paul regularly emphasized:

  • The importance of balancing one’s Deaf heritage with the standards of the industry.
  • That an artist creates the experience and the receiver determines the impact.
  • The importance of balancing family and career.

In addition to the above, and sharing his life experience, Paul was very encouraging when I had the entrepreneurial seizure that later became Visual Language Interpreting (VLI) and was supportive throughout its tenure.

Thank You, Mr. Christie

Paul—thanks for being an incredible human being and an amazing interpreter.  My career and journey in the field has been better because of your personal interest in me.  Thanks for the invitations to your home, and for listening to a young man while he attempted to figure out his career path and life in general—the goo inside.  Lastly, thanks for always being supportive first and constructively critical second.

Take A Turn

I am sure that each of you has at least one person who has had a dramatic impact on your career.  Again, let’s invite karma to help us through these industry challenges by publicly expressing our thanks for those who have given us the push we needed, when we needed it.

Your turn!