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Boundaries: We All Have Issues

Apr 9, 2021 | Interpreter Education

by: Sandy Mahoney, CSC, MBA, BSBA - NIR Interpreter Coordinator

As Benjamin Franklin said: By Failing to Prepare, you are preparing to fail.

The very word boundary is full of ambiguities. For some a boundary is a clear demarcation between x and y. There is a sense that there are right and wrong actions and universal principles that can prescribe correct and incorrect behaviors. For others, the idea of a “boundary” is not so clear. Boundaries are fluid and crossing a boundary is not necessarily a violation. One study involving social workers in London suggested ethical exercise is the best way to help professionals avoid transgressions. This study showed that agency code of ethics impact behaviors less than the actual opportunity to discuss possible behaviors in grey areas. Hence, the importance of professional workshops. Dewane, C (2010) Respecting boundaries-the dos and don’ts of dual relationships.https://www.socialworktoday.com/archive/012610p18.shtml

Defining Professional boundaries

Professional Boundaries are defined by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing as “the spaces between the nurse’s power and the client’s vulnerability.” There is a continuum of Professional Behavior which ranges from UNDER INVOLVED- loss of cultural mediation, ZONE OF PROFESSIONALISM-Interpreter is interpreting between both languages and serves as a Cultural mediator empowering the parties to communicate effectively to OVER-INVOLVED INTERPRETER BEHAVIOR where the Interpreter advises the client and the client asks for help making decisions.

The Importance of Boundaries

Without professional boundaries, the Deaf client may blame you for the outcome of the interaction. Without boundaries, the Hearing client may be confused about who is speaking and about your role as an Interpreter. Without boundaries, you are engaging in unethical behavior. The client cannot trust your impartiality, the message or the outcome. Without boundaries, you demonstrate a lack of respect for the clients. You “own” the outcome and become the rescuer and may experience “compassion fatigue.” You compromise your own physical and emotional safety.

The Zone of Professionalism

The Interpreter always arrives for assignments a minimum of 15 minutes early to perform a communication assessment specific to the environment. The Interpreter is friendly but not friends with their client. The Interpreter models healthy boundaries for the clients. The Interpreter facilitates communication between clients but does not “become” the client. The Interpreter is the bridge not the hand. The Interpreter assures a successful interpretation is possible by controlling turn taking, and other environmental issues as much as possible (Demand-Control schema). The Interpreter empowers both clients by acting as a cultural mediator and ensuring message equivalency. The Interpreter corrects interpretation errors and significant omissions. The Interpreter is prepared for assignments (knowledge power) as much as possible.

Boundary Violations

An Intentional or Unintentional excursion across boundaries with a return to established limits of the professional relationship.

  • Are you at risk for a Boundary violation?
  • Do you:
    • Accept gifts from clients?
    • Hug clients when they are upset?
    • Buy your client coffee?
    • Give advice when your client asks?
    • Share personal information with clients?
    • Attend social or religious events with clients?
    • Have a dual relationship with clients or their family?

When considering specific behaviors, you must ask yourself is the proposed behavior meeting a clearly identified communication need of the parties.

  • Is the behavior consistent with the role of an interpreter in the specific setting?
  • Is this a behavior you would want other people to know you had engaged in with a client?
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