In Therapy (or most places), an Aside to the Interpreter is so Awkward

I was interpreting recently in a mental health setting.  I have been interpreting for 31 years, the last 10 of which have been spent at 360 Translations.  I have pretty much seen and done it all when it comes to interpreting. When I voice for a deaf person, I take on the personae of that deaf person.  It’s like I become them.  It’s nothing weird or supernatural, it’s simply me getting into character and voicing more accurately ( and believably).  I think I am a good interpreter, but an excellent voicer (the latter I have been told repeatedly over the years).

Anyway, in a recent mental health therapy session, I voiced “rigmarole” and it fit perfectly with what the deaf person was saying/signing.  The deaf person is intelligent (aren’t they all?), well-versed in English, and this word would have rolled off their fingers in a most natural fashion.  As it did that session.  To me, this is the essence of voice interpreting – embodying the intent and spirit of the deaf person, which simultaneously empowering them).

The therapist was taken aback.  “Wow, I’m just curious, you (turning to me) said rigmarole, so please show me how to sign (looking to client) rigmarole.”  Me – eyes glaze over and I think to myself – no, not again, this can’t be happening.  Of course I interpret everything the therapist says.  So now instead of being an almost invisible presence in this communication process, I am now the focus of attention.  I am now involved.  I groan silently.

The deaf person is confused, so I must go into an explanation of why the therapist offered the request in the first place.  I would like to note that almost immediately the therapist realized his gaffe – too late, damage done.  So I come out of role and explain what happened.  Rigmarole.  Damn you, rigmarole!!


[ rig-m uh-rohl]
an elaborate or complicated procedure: to go through the rigmarole of a formal dinner.
confused, incoherent, foolish, or meaningless talk.
We will go with the 1st definition here as what was intended.  I DID explain completely, without wasting too much time, what happened.  Therapist happy but embarrassed.  Client embarrassed and silently begging me not to use any more 50 cent words during the session.  Me? Unhinged.
Note to the therapists and hearing stakeholders out there: please do not ask the interpreter to recreate a sign that struck your fancy for your curiosity and amusement. Resist the temptation, please.  Pretend we are not there, the best you can.  Gracias!
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
3 replies
  1. Gayle Daniels
    Gayle Daniels says:

    Wow! I can relate to this. I am deaf myself. I notice that hearing people me way too different when the hearing ASL interpreter is involved. So I am grateful that you brought this up because hearing people will pay MORE attention to the interpreter than the client. It’s very rude as if we are less important than the interpreter. Thank you for sharing!!


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *