To be willing to not know what the next step in the process is, is key to creativity.

Lianne Nap, MSc / Sign Language Interpreter NGT/NL/EN/ EUMASLI-graduate/ professional supervisor





Creativity supports Reflective Practice

Lianne Nap February 2021

After writing a thesis on reflective practice, (Right versus Right: Sign Language Interpreters’ Ethical Decision-Making Processes - A Diary Study, October 2015) for EUMASLI (, I felt drawn to the challenge of working with inner landscapes of sign language interpreters. The aim of my research during EUMASLI was to find out how interpreters describe their ethical decision-making processes in their own daily practice. Ten (10) sign language interpreters from the Netherlands recorded written diary entries immediately after five of their assignments. After receiving direct training on the dialogic work analysis, proposed by Dean and Pollard (2013), they again recorded written diary entries for five interpreting assignments. To analyse all the reflective work,  carried out by these interpreters, was a huge effort that occupied me for much of the summer of 2019. Despite the mountain of work, the insights received by reading and analysing 100 diary entries were exciting. The inner world of the sign language interpreters was asked for because they had to focus on moment-to-moment decisions , reflection-on-action (Schön, 1983/2013) rather than on ‘huge dilemmas’. For the training day, all participating interpreters were asked to bring an object that symbolised their participation in this research project. At the beginning of the day every individual explained her symbol and why she had agreed to participate in this study.Read on...

One interpreter brought a little hand-shaped mirror:

“In the beginning I thought I wouldn’t manage to reflect on my own practice, but because the diaries were actually questions that guided my thinking, I enjoyed participation more than I thought in the beginning.”

Someone else showed the camera function of her i-phone: 

“Before entering a setting as an interpreter, I use the selfie possibility on my phone as a mirror, to check if I look right without anything between my teeth, for example. Participating in this project is quite a confrontation with myself. A good way of self-reflection as a professional. I am very excited with and thankful for this new input.”

One of the interpreters brought a coloured hat and a blank piece of paper:

“Participating in this research adventure is a colourful experience to me, which I really enjoy. I also feel that this is just the start of something new and that I am at the beginning of a new chapter in my career.”

Curiosity. Excitement. Eagerness to learn new things. Courage to look one step further. Being ready for a meaningful journey. In my opinion all these characteristics describe what reflective practice starts with. Fascinated by the ‘harvest’ of my EUMASLI research-project, I decided to take a diploma course in professional supervision (diploma in 2019). I wanted to devote more of my time to exploring the intrapersonal demands, challenges and emotions of my interpreter colleagues in order to encourage them to strengthen and equip themselves as professional instruments.

In the Netherlands, professional supervision is new to the field of sign language interpreters. SLI’s can join a peer support group if they wish, to discuss complexities of assignments, challenges and emotions they face in everyday practice. On the other hand, supervision as a process, gives the interpreter the opportunity to not only discuss and talk about the observed issues, but also to experience the vulnerable moments again in a safe and restricted environment. In the past years, my experience as a supervisee was that my supervisor invited me to go a lot deeper than I was used to in peer support groups with other interpreters. Together with my supervisor I travelled along a variety of aspects of my inner world and we explored the meaning of the different details. At first, the supervisor guided me, whereas during the process I took on more and more responsibility myself for what I wanted to explore and why. 

Because sign language interpreters are excellent visual thinkers and I am convinced that learning could involve trying something new, I like to use creative ways of working during supervision. Language has its constraints and is bound by rules, but creativity is not subject to these limitations. Utilising creativity - if it suits and supports the person’s learning process of course - opens up the imagination process and paves the way to experiment. During the process of creativity in supervision, unexpected treasures can be found by the supervisee. ‘Unexpected treasures’ may be: new meaning given to a moment back in time; a different perspective on a certain interaction with a person; or taking a closer look at a symbol, for example. To be willing to not know what the next step in the process is, is key to creativity.

During one of my supervision sessions, an interpreter shared an internal dialogue. It seemed that two people were talking inside her, having different opinions. When I asked her what the names of those people were, she called them ‘yellow’ and ‘blue’. Putting a yellow and a blue paper on the ground, I asked her to again tell her story, but now whilst standing on the different pieces of paper. The interpreter surprised herself by giving words to her story from the perspective of ‘yellow’ while standing on the yellow paper and almost automatically stepping onto the blue paper when she changed her perspective. Throughout the process we discovered that both ‘yellow’ and ‘blue’ would benefit by having a mediator, a more moderate person in between. The supervisee called this person ‘green’. I handed a green piece of paper to the supervisee and invited her to place ‘green’ where she would like that person to be. After positioning ‘green’ she stepped on the paper and her whole body posture changed while she shared ‘green’s’ perspective. Reflecting on her role-play of the ‘inner meeting’ afterwards, she herself noticed that she felt a kind of relief when ‘green’ was present in the conversation. She could -afterwards- describe the difference in what she felt in her body while standing on the yellow, blue and green paper. Her body and cognition were cooperating through creativity and brought her new insights. As a supervisor I feel thankful to have assisted in unpacking the ‘colourful dialogue’ that was already present inside an interpreter.

Dr. Jules Dickinson wrote in her blog about participants creating a mask to represent their feelings when they felt ashamed. She used creativity as an encouraging way for people to indirectly share their feelings, via the mask. “A paper plate formed the base of the mask and participants then used a range of materials (pipe cleaners, glitter, coloured pens, tinsel etc.) to create their ‘shame face’. This process allowed them to be playful, but at the same time created a powerful and serious representation of their shame experience.”

For me the beauty of being playful and creative is in the indirectness, i.e. sharing a story via material, and in creating a ‘new dimension’ together with the supervisee, to serious issues. I agree with Dickinson that creative play or creativity in general “shouldn’t be foisted upon them, and must not be used randomly, without regard as to its appropriateness. Supervisees can feel exposed and vulnerable by the process of representing their scenario visually, or by acting it out. It is therefore crucial that creative play takes place in a safe environment, and within agreed boundaries.” Utilising creativity may never be a goal in itself in my opinion. The dynamic of the new creative dimension can only be valued when everyone present agrees on using imagination as a means to grow in the art of being a reflective practitioner.






“Many times I have witnessed supervisees move from a place of distress and feeling stuck to one of empowerment and action."






New Zealand Sign Language Interpreter / Supervisor: A Journey

Lynx September 2020

I’d been a qualified New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) interpreter for about eight years before I came across a supervision session through my interpreting work. My Deaf client was struggling with an issue in their workplace, and I was impressed with the way the supervisor helped my client to further clarify the issue, explore her feelings about the situation, and consider any actions she had taken and the resulting consequences from those actions. They then discussed other potential actions and possible consequences before reviewing the whole session and wrapping up in a mutually respectful, timely manner.

I thought, “I need this.” Until that point I’d been very lucky to have had some great mentors, interpreters with a wealth of experience who helped me (and still help me!) to develop and hone my interpreting skills. But this first exposure to a supervision session was a lightbulb moment - I realised that here was a structured, supportive means to enabling and enhancing reflective practice that I had not encountered before. There are always ethical dilemmas, challenging dynamics, stress and trauma, conflicting emotions and many other issues that arise in our work as interpreters that are not addressed through mentoring. I was sold.

With supervision now in my consciousness, it wasn’t long before I came across a short, intensive supervision course. It consisted of three days of lectures and workshops, aimed at organisations that more and more are coming to see the benefits of supervision for their staff. I decided to take time off from interpreting and do it. I learned a few basic skills (the importance of contracts, curious questioning and attentive listening, not giving advice, a couple of different supervision models). I remember being surprised that there was no requirement for specific qualifications to start working as a supervisor – but since that was the case, in late 2010 I started offering supervision to other NZSL interpreters.Read on...

For the next five or six years I continued to offer both one to one and group supervision to interpreters in my home city, Auckland, and occasionally in other regions. I am the co-owner of Connect Interpreting, one of the two national NZSL-English interpreting services in NZ. Connect has been offering bi-monthly group supervision sessions to interpreters since early 2012, and we have also been supporting all newly graduated interpreters by offering them free one-to-one supervision throughout their first year of interpreting work.

During this time, again through my interpreting work, I came across ‘good’ supervision and some ‘not so good’ supervision. Most ‘supervision’ that I encountered was really line management (“Have you finished all the necessary reports for this week?” and “I see that you haven’t completed the goal setting for these clients”). However, apart from this awareness of different interpretations of ‘supervision’, and reading a few articles, my supervision practice didn’t really develop.

A pivotal moment in this journey was in January 2016 when I decided to join a Linguist PD session on ‘Supervision for Professionals Working with Deaf People’, facilitated by the wonderful Omoyele Thomas. Omoyele is an experienced BSL Interpreter who had completed a Diploma in Professional Supervision via 360 ( I was reassured to find that Omoyele’s presentation largely reflected my own supervision practice. However, one comment she made had a profound impact on me. She said, “It’s not enough to have done a few hours of ‘supervision’ training – if you want to become a professional supervisor you need to undertake a Diploma level course.” It made me acutely aware of my own lack of training, and I became determined to seek out an appropriate course here in New Zealand.

In 2017 I enrolled part-time in a Post-Grad Diploma in Professional Supervision at the University of Auckland. Even within the first few hours of lectures, I realised how little I really knew about professional supervision – the history, the functions, the approaches, the models. Over the next four years of study I became aware of concepts such as power and difference, intersectionality, cultural supervision, the importance of trust. I suddenly had to consider organisational structures in the interpreting profession. I learned and wrote about stress and trauma, and resilience. I became more adept at critically reflecting on my own practice as a supervisor. I learned a great deal.

I handed in my final assignment in lockdown, just two months ago. I continue to be amazed, and humbled, by the transformative nature of professional supervision. Many times I have witnessed supervisees move from a place of distress and feeling stuck to one of empowerment and action. I feel excited by the enthusiasm and curiosity that supervisees bring to the sessions. With more knowledge and theory behind me, the professional relationships I have with supervisees are based on trust and honest, open communication.

I’m now offering supervision online as well as face to face, both for individual and group supervision. As I’m currently the only NZSL interpreter in NZ with a post-grad qualification in professional supervision, interpreters from around the country (and especially those more isolated interpreters in the regions), my supervision practice is in demand. While I’m grateful for the interest, I’m also aware that the choice of supervisors is extremely limited – one! To that end, I’m currently promoting the PG Diploma to my NZ colleagues in the hope that others may decide to embark on the same journey. There are also the beginnings of collaboration between New Zealand and the UK, where NZ interpreters could benefit from the relative anonymity of qualified supervisors in the UK, and vice versa. Our new familiarity with online platforms such as Zoom make this entirely possible. We have to be grateful to Covid-19 for something!

Professional Supervision is still a relatively new concept in the interpreting profession. However, with more awareness, more international collaboration and more research, this exciting field is starting to flourish 



The current pandemic has exposed the fragility of our employment situation, with many of us already experiencing redundancy or facing losing work. If we fail to balance our work self with the other identities we hold, we can become too enmeshed in our professional role. When our employment ceases, for whatever reason, we can suffer a loss of self esteem and feel disconnected from our true self. In these exceptional times it is vital to understand that we have worth and value outside of our profession.


Dr Jules Dickinson


I am not my work

Coronavirus has hugely impacted on the lives of people all over the world. For many, work has been significantly disrupted. For others, altered beyond recognition. Furloughed, laid off, or made redundant. Working remotely, based at home, or continuing to work through the pandemic as a key worker. Whichever way you look at it, things ain’t what they used to be.

I have been in lockdown and out of work since March 2020. A double whammy of redundancy and the impact of Coronavirus has rocked my sense of self, disconnected me from what I have always known. I have spent much of the last four months reflecting on the central role work plays in our lives, how we can overidentify with our professional roles, and the extent to which we define ourselves according to what we do.

Work is a cornerstone of our lives. We devote a lot of time and energy doing it, thinking about it, and seeking it. We use it as a mirror to evaluate ourselves, depending on the extent to which we succeed or fail in our chosen career. Whilst it is good if we can enjoy work and find rewards in what we do, overidentification with work can be unhealthy and can prevent us having a stable, independent sense of self.

My experience as a Professional Supervisor is that signed language interpreters often overidentify with their professional status. I wonder if the allegiance we have with the Deaf community leads us to be more enmeshed in our role. Then there is the issue of demand traditionally outstripping supply.  The temptation here can be to overwork, to accept assignments when near burn-out point, because ‘if I don’t do it who will?’ Being out of work, therefore, is a new experience. For me, this is the longest period of unemployment in my adult life. As with many other colleagues, this is the first time I have not been needed, the first time I have not had a full diary booked months in advance. It is important to take time to examine the effect this has, and how we can manage the feelings and emotions we experience.

What can we do?Read on...

Being cast adrift from our work, no longer feeling useful, not using the skills we have sweated blood and tears to gain, can have a devastating impact. These are some of the things I have been doing to try and centre myself, to rediscover who I really am, and to start to regain a sense of self-worth.

  1. View it as a dry run. The pandemic is a reminder that work will definitely end at some point, whether that be through retirement, redundancy or lifestyle changes. This period of ‘not work’ has been a useful exercise in recognising that the feelings of being unsettled, upset and sad are perfectly natural, and it is a process to be worked through.
  2. Who am I outside of work? Feelings of worthlessness have been counteracted by spending some time thinking about what makes me ME, in finding my true centre. I have taken a long hard look at what I love and value about myself outside of my professional role. I have considered what I invest in my hobbies and interests, and how my passion for dance and music is a core element of who I am.
  3. Reconnecting with others. This is even more relevant in the current crisis, where many of us are separated from family, friends and colleagues. I have been re-examining my relationships with others, considering the impact I have on their lives and how they enrich mine. Exploring ways of making more meaningful connections with the important people in my world feels crucial right now.

Work is just one aspect of our identity, we have many other facets, other faces we show to the world. The important message to absorb is that we are more than our work. It is vital that we understand this in these exceptional times. Finding our true self and separating it from our work self will stand us in good stead for the future.

References and Further Reading
Davies, J. (2019). ‘You Are Not Your Work. How to escape “workism” and reclaim your identity.’
Koretz, J. (2019). ‘What Happens When Your Career Becomes Your Whole Identity.’
Shohet, R. (2008).’Passionate Supervision’. London and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Zetlin, M. (2015). ‘Define Yourself by Your Work? How (and Why) You Should Stop Now.’






My recommendation to both supervisors and supervisees would be to try using creative play in supervision- it can nudge you beyond your comfort zone, extend and deepen your learning, and ultimately develop your professional practice.

Beyond words - creative play in supervision

Dr Jules Dickinson July 2019

Supervision offers the supervisee a safe, boundaried, and confidential space in which to discuss with their supervisor the challenges, issues and emotions they experience in their everyday practice. However, as a supervisee it can sometimes be difficult to put in to words the experience or scenario you want to discuss with your supervisor. Alternatively, you may describe the situation adequately and yet still feel unable to get to the nub of the matter, or you may think you need a deeper, more fine-grained understanding of what was happening for you. This is where your supervisor can invite you to engage in creative play.

Creative play is a term used to describe a very wide range of methods and interventions that can be utilised within the supervision process. It is a way of examining issues from a different perspective, and allows us to break away from the constraints a spoken (or signed) language can place on us. Creativity engages us in exploration and refers not to artistic talent, but to the ability to be spontaneous and use our imagination (Schuck & Wood 2011). There are a variety of tools that a supervisor can use to help the supervisee work in a more visual, playful and creative way, for example the use of metaphor, asking the supervisee to draw their dilemma or scenario on flip chart paper, using puppets to play out the issue they want to discuss, or engaging in role play.

How does this work in practice? I might ask a supervisee to use a metaphor to describe the issue or dilemma they have brought to the session. A question of ‘how did you feel in this situation, can you visualise what was happening might bring the response ‘as if I was wading through quicksand’. I can use the image that the supervisee has given me to draw out more information, asking questions such as ‘what did the quicksand feel like?’, ‘what does the quicksand represent for you?’ and ‘how would you like to get out of the quicksand?’. The supervisee might respond by saying they want someone to throw them a rope or that they want to get out themselves, without any help. These responses will then form the basis of further discussion.Read on...

Alternatively I could ask the supervisee if they would like to model their scenario by choosing items from my box of found objects. The supervisee can select items which represent the people involved in their situation or pick an object which represents how they felt at the time. A supervisee might chose a shell, and use this to describe how they feel they have a hard outer casing, but on the inside they are soft and vulnerable. We can then go on to explore in more depth what this means for them in relation to the scenario they are describing. The supervisor does not have to have a box of objets trouvés with them, they may ask the supervisee to select items that are on hand in the room. The important thing is that the supervisee is encouraged to be creative and can derive sufficient meaning from the object(s) they chose.

Example of a box of found objects:

I frequently encourage supervisees to work visually, for example using flip chart paper to draw an outline of a scenario. The way the supervisee represents the scene can reveal a lot of information which might have been difficult to extract otherwise- the proximity of participants to each other, the layout of the room, the way in which the protangonist or antagonist is shown to be larger or smaller than other characters. All of these details will bring to light new and different information.

Creative play can also be used in supervision workshops. During a workshop on shame resilience I expanded on a suggestion from Sanderson (2015) and asked participants to create a mask to represent their feelings when they felt shamed. A paper plate formed the base of the mask and participants then used a range of materials (pipe cleaners, glitter, coloured pens, tinsel etc.) to create their ‘shame face’. This process allowed them to be playful, but at the same time created a powerful and serious representation of their shame experience.

‘Shame’ workshop participants at play (reproduced with the kind permission of attendees)

A note of caution. Creative play isn’t for everyone. Some supervisors may feel uncomfortable and/or unconfident in using it. As a supervisor, inviting a supervisee to join in a creative play exercise can feel like a huge risk. I often worry about not being able to ‘make sense’ of what the supervisee creates, and have to remind myself to trust in the process, observe and to ask questions about what I notice. Some supervisees will not want to engage in creative play. It shouldn’t be foisted upon them, and must not be used randomly, without regard as to its appropriateness. Supervisees can feel exposed and vulnerable by the process of representing their scenario visually, or by acting it out. It is therefore crucial that creative play takes place in a safe environment, and within agreed boundaries. Clear guidelines about what the supervisee can expect areessential (Schuck & Wood 2011). Additionally, the supervisor must be appropriately trained, qualified, and sufficiently skilled to contain the session and ‘hold’ the supervisee.

Finally and crucially, creative play is not about ‘getting right’, neither for supervisor or supervisee*. It is a process which enables all parties to view a situation through a different lens. It gives the supervisee the freedom to be spontaneous and to experiment. The outcomes of the creative play exercise may be instanteously clear to the supervisee, but it also may not be revealed during the session, overnight or even over the next 6 months. However, a new perspective or a shift in thinking may occur over time, or the intervention may open up new possibilities to the supervisee when they next experience the same situation or a similar problem. My recommendation to both supervisors and supervisees would be to try using creative play in supervision- it can nudge you beyond your comfort zone, extend and deepen your learning, and ultimately develop your professional practice.

*I would like to thank both Cathy Davey (MBACP Senior Accredited, and Elaine Wiley (Psychotherapist/Trainer) for their input, guidance and wise words in steering me on the road to creative play.


Sanderson, C. (2015). Counselling skills for working with shame. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Schuck, C. & Wood, J. (2011). Inspiring Creative Supervision. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.








"There is nothing more satisfying than a supervisee having a ‘lightbulb’ moment where they stumble across a realisation that they may not have been able to identify if reflecting by themselves."

Journey to Supervision and Beyond...

Omoyele Thomas March 2019

I became a BSL Interpreter in May 2002, RSLI in February 2006 and became a Professional Supervisor in November 2015. In this blog, I am going to describe my journey and what led me to supervision and beyond

As interpreters, we ofter enter into a booking and exit without any time to reflect on the impact said booking has had on us. I know after my daughter was born, coming back to work was hard and interpreting what would be classed as a routine booking such as a doctors appointment turned into a traumatic experience as I had to witness a baby having it’s routine immunisations which then prompted me to burst in to tears. I felt awful for letting my emotions show and felt I had let the mother down. I hadn’t realised how much I was carrying with me and how much I needed an avenue to empty this metaphorical ‘jar.’  Read on...

Back then, there was really no recommended way to turn other going to trusted colleagues and my partner to help me unpick issues. It wasn’t till a few years later that I embarked on my supervision journey and joined a supervision group. I wanted a clear separation and did not want the issue of confidentiality to get in the way of me expressing myself to ensure I was practicing safely and looking after myself. My supervision group was invaluable, as we worked to a contract and within a safe space; I felt I had finally got the balance right. I still attend monthly supervision but have now chosen to attend individual supervision for my interpreting practice.

I wanted so much for other interpreters to become aware of the benefits of supervisions and wanted to let others know it was okay to have reactions to work, so much so that I wanted to be that support system. I had looked into mentoring but ASLI had since ceased their mentoring training programme, then fate stepped in and the very first Diploma in Supervision for Sign Language Interpreters was advertised by 360 Supervision and I jumped on it straight away. I would then have to wait a further year before this was able to commence. Besides my training to become an interpreter, this was the single most impactful training I have ever experienced. It changed me as a person and changed my outlook on life, for which I will be eternally grateful. It was an experiential and immersive course where you not only trained to become a Professional Supervisor but got to hold a mirror up to yourself and explore parts of you that you didn’t realise were there.

The course ran from January 2015 till November 2015 and involved heading up to the Midlands for a long weekend every two months, the hours were immense but worth every minute. Alongside that, there were assignments, presentations, case studies and the need to practice as a Professional Supervisor in your own time. As a Trainee Supervisor, I offered my services free of charge whilst I developed and honed my skills, something which I am grateful to my supervisees for giving me the opportunity to do through that year. It involved a staggering total of 150 hours of study but it was all worth it in the end as I became one of the first cohort of Qualified Professional Supervisors in November 2015 and have been practicing ever since. Part of the requirement of a Supervisor is to attend Consultative Supervision where I discuss my supervisory practice and so this is something that I have  also built in to my practice on a monthly basis.

I now aim to leave at least one day a week free for my supervision clients and have built up my client base slowly but surely. Professional Supervision is still growing slowly in the profession and my ideal would be to see it become an essential part of every BSL Interpreter’s continual professional development. I think there are still issues with people’s understanding of ‘Professional Supervision’ and the difference between that and the 'NRCPD Supervision’ which requires one to look at someones skills and abilities as an interpreter and sign them off as compliant and skilled enough to enable them to work within the profession. The dual use of the name ‘Supervisor’ is still the main sticking point so prefixes should always be used to discern the difference.

 Professional Supervision works in a very different way and is able to offer different functions such as Formative (Educative), Normative (Accountability) and Restorative (support). In any given session, I find that I can cover all 3 functions and have to adapt to the needs of my supervisee. Another myth is that you need to bring a ‘problem’ to supervision. Yes, issues do get unpicked and supervisees are challenged within a session but I have also covered positives, been able to praise and recognise a job well done and have watched professionals grown and flourish as they enter new domains or challenge themselves.

There is nothing more satisfying than a supervisee having a ‘lightbulb’ moment where they stumble across a realisation that they may not have been able to identify if reflecting by themselves. I offer a safe space to reflect, explore, hold a mirror up to them and always feel honoured to have these professionals trust me to guide them through any issues they wish to bring. The supervisory relationship always develops over time and thus trust and openness follows.

It is through my experience as a professional supervisor that I have now had another door opened to me. I have discovered that so much of one’s personal life impacts on their work and vice versa and I often have to be aware of my role and not go beyond my boundaries. Part of the supervision training involved being aware of these boundaries and if or when the need arises, to signpost to other professionals such as counsellors. I then decided that I wanted to be that next stepping stone and explored what routes I could take. I applied for a Certificate in Counselling Skills which I was accepted on and commenced in the January of this year and already know its the right course for me. The certificate course runs for two terms till July 2019 then the next step is the Diploma in Counselling 3 year course which I will be applying for. So far, the course has opened my eyes to the different styles of counselling - ranging from humanistic to psychodynamic and I am intrigued to continue this journey to find out which style calls out to me. Its a completely different pathway and I am excited about what the future may hold in this new field. 







"Most of the time people don’t realise they are approaching burnout as it doesn't happen suddenly. You don't wake up one morning and all of a sudden "have burnout." It creeps, though our bodies and minds do give us warnings, and if you know what to look for, you can recognise it before it's too late."


Paula Cox January 2019

In 2016 NUBSLI conducted a study and stated that interpreters are leaving or contemplating leaving the profession. I for one never imagined a time when I would be thinking of abandoning my beloved career that I had sweated and sacrificed for years over, but over time I’ve come to understand and empathise with their reasons.

We go into interpreting full of energy, enthusiasm and passion. Some may even think they’re going to change the world, or at least the lives of the people they’re working with. By the end we can experience exhaustion, frustration and disillusionment leading to compassion fatigue and ultimately burnout.Read on...

The dictionary definition of burnout is “the reduction of a fuel or substance to nothing through use or combustion” and in professional terms “a syndrome which occurs due to prolonged emotional strain of dealing extensively with other human beings, particularly in helper and recipient relationships.”

If you imagine your body is a car that has been running for some time without checking or filling up the oil, eventually the engine is going to seize completely. Even though you put your foot to the floor it’s going nowhere. 

We are constantly hearing about insecurity in the profession and often face increasing demands from agencies. We have worked so hard and spent so much  time and money to become interpreters, we continue to commit to training to keep our skills honed and yet we are regularly having to defend our fees.  

It’s not uncommon to experience performance anxiety and feel like we’re just not good enough which isn’t helped by hostile or critical Deaf and hearing colleagues. It can be a lonely business.  We’re the first people to make sure everyone in the room is having their needs met, which leaves our own often ignored. 

Working in a helping profession like interpreting can be particularly stressful as we are sometimes privy to extreme events in our client's lives and in our limited role we can be powerless to help. We witness discrimination against our clients and are obliged to fight other’s ignorance daily. All of these considerations can have a negative effect on your mental wellbeing, possibly resulting in vicarious trauma, which if unchallenged can lead to burnout.

Most of the time people don’t realise they are approaching burnout as it doesn't happen suddenly. You don't wake up one morning and all of a sudden "have burnout." It creeps, though our bodies and minds do give us warnings, and if you know what to look for, you can recognise it before it's too late.

Signs of Burnout


  • Lack of energy
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Forgetfulness
  • Impaired concentration and attention
  • Headaches
  • Chest pain
  • Heart palpitations 
  • Dizziness
  • Prone to illnesses because of weakened immune system


  • Anxious
  • Overwhelmed
  • Hopeless
  • Depressed
  • Worthlessness
  • Sense of failure
  • Self doubt
  • Trapped
  • Powerless
  • Irritable
  • Resentful
  • Angry


  • Loss of appetite
  • Constantly hungry
  • Pessimistic 
  • Isolating yourself
  • Emotional detachment
  • Withdrawing from responsibilities
  • Talking negatively about yourself
  • Depersonalisation - negative and cynical attitudes towards your clients
  • Difficulty holding in feelings
  • Taking out frustrations on other people 
  • Loss of enjoyment
  • Lack of productivity and poor performance
  • Being late for work, leaving early and increased absenteeism 
  • Marital and family problems
  • Using food, drugs or alcohol to cope
  • Loss of interest in developing and learning.

The importance of professional supervision in the prevention of burnout

Back in 2001 Dean and Pollard were talking about a lack of resources such as confidential supervision, as contributing factors to increased illness, injury, turnover, and burnout rates. Hawkins and Shohet had a great analogy in Supervision in the Helping Professions. They said “The British miners in the 1920s fought for what was termed ‘pit-head time’- the right to wash off the grime of the work in the boss’s time, rather than take it home with them. Supervision is the equivalent for those that work at the coal-face of personal distress, disease and fragmentation” By exploring the emotional demands of work stress through regular supervision, stress is reduced and with it the probability of eventual burnout.  

With training now developed especially for sign language interpreters from 360 Supervision, we are redressing that lack of support with qualified supervisors who  are experienced interpreters. Developing a trusting, supportive relationship with a supervisor you then have a safe place to regularly offload. You can build a greater resilience when you begin to develop your self awareness, explore your boundaries and build a toolbox of coping strategies for the issues that arise when working in a caring profession. 

Supervision is the ultimate self care, and though fairly new to our profession, I’m convinced it will soon become a staple support system for BSL interpreters as it is for counsellors and social workers. As a result we will lose less highly qualified,    experienced, effective interpreters to burnout in the years to come. 

References (2009). What is Burnout? | The Australian Institute of Professional Counsellors. [online] Available at: [Accessed 28 Sep. 2017].

Dean, R., & Pollard, R. (2001). Application of demand-control theory to sign language interpreting: Implications for stress and interpreter training. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 6, 1-13.

Hale, C. (2016). An Uncertain Future: Findings from a Profession Exit Survey of British Sign Language/English Interpreters. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 Oct. 2017].

Hawkins, P. and Shohet, R. (1989). Supervision in the Helping Professions. 1st ed. Milton Keynes: Open University Press, p.42.

Rothschild, B. (2006). Help for the Helper: The Psychophysiology of Compassion Fatigue and Vicarious Trauma. W. W. Norton & Company, p.4.






"It takes skill, sensitivity and careful judgement to remain within the boundaries of supervision while ensuring their supervisee has been ‘heard’. This requires a depth and breadth of training to sit with others’ distress, support them without rescuing and signpost if necessary"

Is it really necessary to train to become a supervisor?

Ali Hetherington  November 2018

When I qualified almost 20 years ago I decided to work as a freelance interpreter and enjoyed the freedom this afforded me. At the same time I was acutely aware what an immense responsibility working as an interpreter was and that I was primarily working alone with no support or guidance. There were days when I was filled with self doubt and questioned whether I had done the right thing or, indeed, was good enough to do the job. I didn’t know who to talk to and was scared to ask more experienced interpreters for feedback for fear of what they might say. What I longed for was someone to talk to who would not judge me.

Several years later I was fortunate to interpret on a Diploma in Counselling and it was there that I first witnessed professional supervision in action - in the UK counsellors are required to have supervision throughout their career, including while training.  That was a pivotal moment for me, as I realised a framework was available to support my work as an interpreter and I immediately sought my own supervision. Read on...

Before I started supervision I went from one assignment to the next, ‘forgetting’ the previous job and focusing on the next and I remained oblivious of the toll work was taking on me. I anticipated that I would talk about decisions I had made in supervision and what I might do differently in the future and that my supervisor would be there to support this exploration of my practice. What I didn’t expect was the depth of feeling that I brought to supervision in relation to my work. For example, my anger at witnessing the discrimination D/deaf people face daily, or my fear of working with certain co-workers and clients. 

My supervisors have gently encouraged me to explore my responses to the work I do and the people I work with, including how I might be perceived by others. Supervision has given me the space, time and support I need to truly reflect on my practice, which has allowed for deeper change, understanding and empathy. I credit the process of supervision in enabling me to become a better interpreter and, I believe, a better person too. 

I trained as a supervisor in 2009 keen to provide the same support to my colleagues. My cohort were all therapists and throughout my training I was struck by how much the knowledge and skills they gained during their core training provided them with the skill set necessary in the role as a Supervisor. I was conscious that I didn’t have this foundation and my motivation for developing a bespoke Diploma in Supervision was to provide a strong grounding for interpreters wishing to train as supervisors by incorporating skills vital to the role of a supervisor that are not part of our interpreter training. For example, when a supervisee is distressed their Supervisor is responsible for navigating the fine line between supervision and therapy and it takes skill, sensitivity and careful judgement to remain within the boundaries of supervision while ensuring their supervisee has been ‘heard’. This requires a depth and breadth of training to sit with others’ distress, support them without rescuing and signpost them if necessary. 

I have advocated for the development of professional supervision within the interpreting profession for many years and have often been asked whether it is really necessary to train as a supervisor.  My answer is that supervision is not just about what supervisors do it is how they do it and in-depth training is vital to develop the necessary skills, self-awareness and careful judgment required of the role.  My hope is that our profession recognises the valuable contribution supervision can make both to the health of interpreters and, in turn, the service our clients receive.







"As both a provider and recipient of supervision I have been struck by the way in which the same issues rise to the surface again and again. There seem to be consistent threads woven through our work/life tapestry, and one of the roles of a Professional Supervisor is to pick out those threads, and gently tease out the details with their supervisee"

Seeing patterns – the work of a Professional Supervisor

Dr Jules Dickinson October 2018

Supervision has been fundamental to my professional practice for longer than I care to remember. In 2004 I saw Clare Shard, an interpreter working in mental health, give an inspirational presentation about supervision at ASLI Conference in Manchester. I was left with a real gut feeling of ‘this is for me’ and subsequently joined a local supervision group (facilitated by a psychotherapist), along three other interpreters. Out of all of the training and professional development I have undertaken during my career, supervision has had the most transformative impact on my interpreting practice. Fast forward to 2018, and I have been now practicing as a Professional Supervisor for approximately 3 years, after qualifiying with 360 Supervision.Read on...

As both a provider and recipient of supervision I have been struck by the way in which the same issues rise to the surface again and again. There are consistent threads woven through our work/life tapestry, and one of the roles of a Professional Supervisor is to pick out those threads, and gently tease out the details with their supervisee. 

So what have I noticed, in my own practice and that of my supervisees? The three threads I have identified and would like to briefly highlight here are: shame; fear of being ‘found out’ (imposter syndrome); and self-doubt. These threads intertwine and are inextricably linked – for example, if you are trying to stay afloat in a pool of self-doubt you will struggle to hang on to the lifeline of validation and praise offered by a colleague. Let’s look at these threads and see how we might re-work them. 

The feeling of not being ‘good enough’ is rooted in shame and is an issue that comes up repeatedly in supervision. An ‘intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging’ (Brown 2008:5), shame means we see ourselves as damaged or defective, believing that there is ‘something wrong with us’ (Hewson 2008: 35). It is a feeling which can have a negative impact on interpersonal behaviour, and is a deeply-rooted emotion that can be hard to address. Through the supervision process, a supervisor can work with a supervisee to help them understand the origins of shame, whose shame it is, and how to develop professional resilience to shame. Talking about shame reinforces the message that it’s not ‘just you’, and so reduces the power that shame holds over us (Dickinson, 2017).

The feeling of being a fraud or imposter has been described by many supervisees and it is a feeling that I have also experienced. I spent many years post-qualification, waiting for the door to open during an interpreting assignment and for someone to say, “we’ve reviewed your interpreting video evidence and we’ve made a mistake!”. Where does this fear of being exposed, of being judged and found wanting, originate from? For me, the answer lies partly with the piecemeal qualification system for BSL/English interpreters, where there is no single qualification route that is widely recognised. Regardless of where the feeling originates, it is important to acknowledge its self-destructive quality. If we don’t believe in ourselves, how can we engender trust in others? Importantly, what are we saying about the people who tell us we are good enough? If we continue to insist that we are not good practitioners, we are effectively invalidating the skills and opinions of our assessors and colleagues. It says something about how we see other people – we are disavowing them, they are not good enough either.

Many interpreters, myself included, appear to have considerable doubts about their skills and abilities. This obviously has a huge impact on self-confidence, and much of my work with supervisees focuses on how we can build their faith in their professional performance. This thread is closely linked to perfectionism and the questions we need to ask ourselves are: what do you need from yourself to accept that you are good enough; who do you have to be perfect for; who is setting the standards you are trying to reach; and whose expectations are you trying to live up to? If we start to look at some of those questions, we can set the bar at a more realistic and achievable level, rather than consistently failing to meet impossible self-determined targets. A key action here is to consider how we hear and hold validation from others. It is my experience that we are all too ready to hear criticism and take it to heart, but we are quick to dismiss any praise, affirmation or positive comments. Working with a supervisor can help to develop ways of really hearing the ‘good stuff’. We look at how it feels when other people validate our work and what our reactions are. We discuss what stops us hearing those positives. Finally, we explore where positive comments ‘land’ and how we can hold on to them. 

As a Professional Supervisor, I am required to have supervision for my supervision practice. This is an invaluable source of support, as it ensures that I am accountable for my practice and enables me to discuss any thorny and challenging issues. All of the patterns I have described here emerge from time to time during my own supervision sessions. I would like to acknowledge the skill of my supervisor in drawing out my feelings and thoughts, and in building my courage to be a ‘good enough’ supervisor, interpreter, and human being.


Brown, B. (2008). I thought it was just me (but it isn’t). New York: Gotham Books.

Dickinson, J. (2018). No shame on you. Newsli, Issue 103

Hewson, J. (2008). ‘Passionate Supervision:  A Wider Landscape’. In Shohet, R. (ed.) Passionate Supervision. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. pp. 34-47. 

Dr Jules Dickinson

PhD, Professional Supervisor, FASLI, RSLI






"In a professional supervision session, I find myself encouraged and guided to delve more deeply into my own reactions to consider both what impact my presence could be having on the dynamics of work situations, and what effect the dynamics are having on me."

Professional Supervision - A Personal Journey

Mariella Reina  September 2018

It has been a good number of years since I qualified as a BSL/English interpreter and yet I never cease to be amazed about the ongoing breadth of capacity for development and growth that is an enduring feature of this job. Of course the practical elements of working effectively between languages is a vast area of exploration in itself, but the less tangible inter/intra-personal dynamics can have a huge bearing on how successful or otherwise any assignment might be and yet can easily be overlooked.Read on...

I distinctly remember how very curious and interested I was when I read the advert for the 360 Supervision Diploma in Supervision. Here was a course offering something quite new for interpreters a practice that is usually thought of in terms of professions like therapy or social work, etc. The idea of placing real focus on the subtleties within our work and the effects the dynamics can have on us seemed both fascinating and important to me.When the opportunity arose to be a guinea-pigsupervisee for one of the trainee supervisors, to say I was keen is something of an understatement! I wanted to know more about what this practice entailed.  

My only experience of being supervised was through line management when I was an employed interpreter. This would take the form of addressing procedural matters, with any time left used to discuss my work concerns and being offered advice and support more in a mentoring style. It was useful, although limited in enabling me to develop my own resources. I found being professionally supervised enabled me to think differently, to ask myself more useful questions, to find alternate perspectives. In a profession where we often feel hampered by a lack of agency, one of the notable benefits is that I have felt more in control as a professional within my work. 

Of course I have always reflected on my work, both alone and with my peers. This has sustained me to a degree, but I now recognise that this tends to be surface level exploration. The suggestions and corroboration from colleagues when talking supportively with each other, whilst being reassuring and helpful in the moment has limitations in terms of ones development and growth. In a professional supervision session, I find myself encouraged and guided to delve more deeply into my own reactions to consider both what impact my presence could be having on the dynamics of work situations, and what effect the dynamics are having on me. 

Having experienced the benefits first hand, as soon as the 360 training came up again, I felt that tug. The time and financial commitment made me undecided, so I spoke to a couple of colleagues who had been trained as part of the first cohort to find out their views on the course - hearing consistently glowing praise about all aspects of the course convinced me that it was absolutely the right thing for me. It was a priority and so I made some changes to other commitments in my life to ensure I had the space to fully accommodate and commit to the course. The investment was considerable, but the reward was far greater.

Being truly self-aware takes courage and honesty. The subjective nature of knowing thyselfcan trip us up and cause us to be slightly deluded in truly recognising how we come across to others. Training to become a supervisor pushed me to hold a mirror up and get to know me, Mariella: the interpreter, the woman, the daughter, the partner, and all the other facets of who I am more intimately warts and all! The journey was revelatory as we were immersed in experiential learning, and inevitably at some points it was uncomfortable, as acknowledging certain aspects of who you are can stir unexpected emotions. Any discomfort was offset by the huge reward of new insight gained. Ultimately this depth of understanding of oneself provides you with a strong foundation upon which you can build the skills and techniques necessary to be an effective supervisor.

The journey is ongoing as I continue to experience the benefits of being supervised, and equally as a supervisor I have the pleasure of seeing growth occurring in others that I work with. Professional supervision is a powerful resource which has the potential to raise and maintain standards within the BSL/English Interpreting profession. With meaningful reflection embedded in our practice we become more accountable to ourselves about our work, and we are enabled to become resourceful and resilient with better decision-making skills at our fingertips. 

Professional Supervisor Diploma in Supervision 2018

"With the majority of sign language interpreters being freelance practitioners, working mostly in isolation, we rarely have opportunities to offload or explore issues arising from our work in any meaningful way."

How Supervision chose me.

Andy Gregory. August 2018 

With the majority of sign language interpreters being freelance practitioners, working mostly in isolation, we rarely have opportunities to offload or explore issues arising from our work in any meaningful way. In my experience, when we do offload, it tends to be either to people close to us personally, who have no understanding of what we do or why we are not leaving work issues at work, or trusted colleagues who may feel obliged to offer support by validating our thinking and actions because they may not want, or know how, to challenge us and encourage further exploration of the issue.  Read on...

With professional supervision not being mandatory in our profession, many interpreters’ experience of it relates to line management supervision, if they happen to have been part of an employed, in-house interpreting team. Supervision in this context often prioritises the day-to-day business of the team, with opportunities for support and development only incorporated into sessions if time allows and, even then, will usually be led by suggestions from the line manager, rather than involving any kind of guided reflection.   

Finding myself as a freelance interpreter and a member of a peer group with other interpreters where the focus was very much on socialising and support, rather than professionalism and challenge, I took responsibility for my own development, which included attending workshops run by 360 Supervision. On seeing a Diploma in Supervision advertised by the same provider, although I did not understand fully what professional supervision would entail, my interest was piqued as I knew that I wanted to engage in it in some way. When the suggestion to my peer group that we might benefit from facilitation and more structure to our sessions was met with a lukewarm reception, that was the incentive I needed to apply for the Diploma course – still not really knowing what it would mean. Read on...

It had not occurred to me to find my own supervisor but, thankfully, this was a pre-requisite of joining the course and a random encounter resulted in me making contact with one of the graduates from the first cohort of the Diploma in Supervision course who was happy to take me on.

When considering what my image of successful supervision might be, I was aware of a desire for support, challenge and space to reflect on and explore my practice further, but had assumed that my supervisor would simply give me the benefit of her experience as an interpreter and offer solutions, or a range of options for me to consider, regarding any issues I was struggling with. As it turned out, supervision was going to require me to give a lot more of myself than I had anticipated…and the Diploma course even more so!

As far as supervision goes, I had thought about the ‘what’, but not considered the ‘how’, so the process of supervision was very different from my expectations. I arrived for my first session with plenty of content: two direct questions that I just wanted the ‘right’ answers for; a skills issue (an occasional mental block with understanding fingerspellings, that I had previously taken to a mentor); and a couple of scenarios for discussion.

What actually happened was that both questions were directed straight back to me and I explored options and came up with solutions I felt comfortable with. Rather than focusing on the actual fingerspelling skill - my mentor had suggested getting hold of skills development DVDs, watching online clips and getting myself booked onto a one-day course covering this issue – my supervisor, picking up on the word “occasional” in my description of the issue, identified it was not a skills issue and, instead, focused on me, asked me to monitor the occasions when the mental block happens and do a ‘body check’ – ask myself, “How am I today? Am I tired or stressed?” etc. That, right there, for me was the difference between mentoring and supervision.

Regarding the scenarios, I was challenged every time I stated, as fact, what somebody present was thinking about me or feeling at the time, as well as experiencing a ‘funnelling technique’, where my supervisor picked up on key words and phrases I was unconsciously repeating, followed by probing questions to open me up and get to the real heart of the matter. It was so strange hearing my own words come back at me in the form of a challenge, but crucial in encouraging me to identify how I wanted to address the situation. Even though there were some strong challenges, it was done in a non-judgemental way with a balance of support and challenge from a person who held authority in the session but was not authoritarian. Supervision appeared to be about support, accountability and also have an educative function.

All of the above in my first hour of professional supervision, which was followed by some serious reflection on how I had managed to do without this for two years as a freelancer!

Some further reading.

Supervision and the Interpreting Profession:

Support and Accountability Through Reflective Practice
by Ali Hetherington

A Magical Profession?

Causes and Management of Occupational Stress in the Signed Language Interpreting Profession
by Ali Hetherington

Working as a Team:

The importance of training and clinical supervision of interpreters and practitioners for best practice in gender violence contexts.
by Beverley Costa

Supporting information and guidance:

Supporting effective clinical supervision
CQC 2012