Navigate a person-centered care system through trauma-informed language services.

At the surface level, language services like translation and interpreting might seem like fairly straightforward processes: You take content (or speech) in one language, and reproduce the meaning and message in another.

But in practice, it’s all a lot more complicated than that. Translators and interpreters have to take all sorts of other considerations into account, from the specific context of the source to the audience who will be receiving the message in the target language.

After all, the content you might read in an advertisement is worlds away from the language a medical interpreter has to relay back and forth between a patient and their doctor. And certain settings, such as healthcare, emergency services, and legal services, may require providers of language services to take into account the trauma that a person might have experienced before needing those services.

As a result, translation and interpretation become inextricably linked with providing trauma-informed care, and it’s important that language service providers working in these sectors be able to pair non-English-speaking individuals who’ve suffered trauma with interpreters who are well-equipped to provide trauma-informed language services.

For language service providers working in these domains, translation and interpreting are far from just matching and pairing languages — it’s also about making sure individuals with limited English proficiency (LEP) get the care they need and are able to advocate for themselves in light of traumatic experiences.

Interpreters in particular are likely to work with clients and patients who need trauma-informed services. When working with individuals who have dealt with traumatic experiences — whether it’s violence or serious injury — interpreters need to be knowledgeable about how to effectively provide trauma-informed care.

Here, we’ll discuss what trauma-informed care looks like and what interpreters and language service providers in general can do to ensure that they’re providing effective and sensitive trauma informed language services.

What is Trauma-Informed Care?

Trauma-informed care is a way to provide effective care and services to individuals who may have experienced some form of trauma. It’s a matter of being sensitive to an individual’s traumas and making sure that they’re able to receive adequate care in response to these traumatic events.

Revisiting and discussing traumatic events can actively harm somebody’s mental well-being — as a result, it’s important to be sensitive when providing care to people who have faced such trauma. In recent years, providers of both legal and medical services have championed ways to provide trauma-informed services, from reframing the way they talk about traumatic events to avoiding triggering topics altogether.

Providing trauma-informed care can be even trickier when there’s a language and/or cultural barrier. As a result, using interpreters who are specialized in the art of providing trauma-informed language services can help build bridges for limited English proficient individuals to receive adequate care.

General Considerations for Interpreting Settings

Before delving into trauma-informed language services specifically, it’s worthwhile to go over some general considerations that apply to most interpreting settings. These include:

  • Language Pairs: Interpreters need to be fluent in both the source and target language. Different languages may have distinct cultural nuances, making it essential to find interpreters who can accurately convey messages.
  • Phone, Video, In-Person: Interpreting services can be delivered through various modalities. The choice between phone, video, or in-person interpreting depends on the specific needs and limitations of the situation.
  • Spoken vs. Sign Language: While sign language and spoken language interpreting both share the same goal, they do have some differences. For example, not all sign language interpreters or people who are deaf in the US prefer ASL, there are a variety of sign languages, modalities, and variations.
  • Context of Interpreting Setting: Understanding the specific context is essential for providing accurate and effective language access. An interpreter specializing in mental health care services may not be qualified to interpret in a courtroom (and vice versa).

Trauma-Informed Language: Special Considerations

The key consideration to keep in mind when providing trauma-informed services is the emotional and physical well-being of the client or patient.  

Trauma-informed language services acknowledges the potential vulnerability, distress, or triggers that individuals may experience in sensitive or traumatic situations. By implementing trauma-informed practices and considerations, language service providers can create a safe and supportive environment for effective communication and healing.

Here are some additional considerations language service providers should take into account when working with patients who have experienced some form of trauma. 

  • Gender Preferences: Traumatic experiences can lead individuals to feel more comfortable or safe when communicating with an interpreter of a specific gender. Respecting this preference can create an environment that’s conducive to open communication and trust.
  • Age Preferences: Similarly, some individuals may find it easier to connect and share their experiences with interpreters within a specific age range. Victims of violence may prefer to avoid interpreters of the same age as their attacker, but broadly speaking, an age preference can also be influenced by cultural factors, life experiences, or personal comfort.
  • Language Preferences: Speakers of English as a second language (ESL) may prefer to work with an interpreter even if they don’t have LEP. Generally speaking, it’s easier to convey subtle nuances and express yourself in your native language — it’s hard enough to gather your thoughts after a traumatic experience, so it’s important to respect ESL speakers’ desire to work with an interpreter if they request one. Additionally, speaking through an interpreter from the same linguistic background can help build trust.
  • Community Dynamic: Some clients may prefer to avoid working with interpreters who they know personally — others may feel safer with somebody they do know. This is particularly important to consider in small communities where an interpreter is more likely to know many members of their linguistic community, but in any setting, it’s important to consider the degree of anonymity a client or patient would like when receiving language access services.
  • Interpreter’s Preferences: Certain words and phrases (particularly body parts and expletives) can be triggering to both the client and the interpreter. It’s important for language service providers to know what a certain interpreter may or may not be comfortable with interpreting. Assigning an interpreter who’s uncomfortable with certain phrases and topics could have a negative impact on the overall integrity of their interpretation, so it’s important to make sure your interpreter’s boundaries. 

It’s also important to note that these considerations go beyond trauma-informed services as well — even if a client hasn’t experienced severe trauma that you know of. While especially so in particular settings, being sensitive to a client or patient’s needs and triggers is critical to providing effective language services.


A trauma-informed approach to language access services is absolutely crucial, especially when it comes to interpreting for patients and clients in need of mental health, medical, or legal services. By considering an individual’s needs, experiences, and preferences, language service providers can deliver more effective and supportive services.

Here are just a few things you should keep in mind when providing interpreting services in a sensitive or trauma-informed setting:

  • Failure to provide adequately trauma-informed services can trigger or exacerbate an individual’s situation.
  • Some clients with LEP may be more trusting of interpreters from certain backgrounds. It’s important to consider an individual’s preference for the interpreter’s gender, age, and linguistic background, among others.
  • Clients with LEP may also want to avoid working with an interpreter that they know, which can be somewhat challenging in smaller communities. Likewise, clients may prefer working with an interpreter they do know.
  • When working with LEP clients who have experienced some sort of trauma, it’s important to go in with the understanding that some words and phrases might make you or the client feel uncomfortable. Be aware of both your needs and those of the client.

If you’re looking for a language service provider that’s up to date on providing trauma-informed care, look no further. At Avantpage, we’re proud to provide trauma-informed interpreting to all sorts of clients, from legal offices to healthcare providers and beyond. Contact us today at [email protected] or (530) 750-2040 to learn more.