The PSI: coping with challenging situations

What is a Community Interpreter or Public Service Interpreter?

Community interpreting is defined here as interpreting that facilitates access to community services. Depending on how community services are provided from country to country, they can be delivered by publicly funded organizations, for-profit entities, nonprofit organizations or any combination of the three. Typical examples of community interpreting include medical, mental health, educational, social services and faith-based interpreting. Community interpreting may also encompass some of the interpreting conducted in conflict and disaster zones and interpreting for refugees. (1) Source: InterpretAmerica Blog (August 4, 2015), by Katharine Allen


I would like to highlight the interpreting for refugees as so many interpreters are currently offering to assist with traumatised people and the impact it has on them must be tremendous.

In the coming years the influx of refugees into Europe will likely continue and millions of people are struggling to find their way in their newly adopted countries.

They are constantly looking for understanding from local authorities regarding their legal status, the trauma of fleeing war-torn countries and all the challenges that come with settling in a new environment. As these refugees come from a wide range of countries and speak so many different languages, there is a particularly strong need for support from interpreters.

In various cases a PSI is asked to handle the communication with asylum seekers. But much of the time, people who have no qualifications but are bilingual are asked to help out.

A PSI does not work conferences or seminars or assists at business meetings. PSI’s interpret on a community level, in medical or legal settings or on the ground among people who are actually living in their new country for an extended period. In terms of this last group, interpreters try to help asylum seekers, who often speak a minority language, with integration and especially with the different stages of their status determination procedure.

Interpreters working in public services often must perform their tasks in challenging settings that can be extremely delicate. These interpreters are exposed to a considerable amount of psychological and emotional stress that can result from court work, police interviews, medical consultations or meetings with warzone victims and asylum seekers. At the same time the interpreters should strive to be neutral and committed to professional ethics such as confidentiality.

The training of Public Service Interpreters is considered to be quite complex. There should be a balance between a qualified programme and the consideration of socio-economic circumstances. And as an interpreter you absolutely need to be up for the task!

Below are some relevant links and PSI courses:

For some background information on refugee settings:


A paper by Carmen Valero Garcés, ‘Emotional and Psychological Effects on Interpreters in Public Services’:


For training courses in the United States have a look at:


For public service training for migrants and second-generation migrants, take a look at the European Centre for modern languages of the Council of Europe:


Various public service interpreting courses in the United Kingdom: