From interpreter to supervisor

Ali Heatherington

5 March 2024

Supervision has given me the space, time and support I needed to truly reflect on my practice, which has allowed for deeper change, understanding and empathy.

When I qualified 25 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 had the opportunity to see 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.

Space, time and support

Before I started supervision, I went from one assignment to the next, putting the previous job to the back of my mind 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. While this has also been the case, 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 understanding what was behind my apprehension about working with certain co-workers and clients and how I could make positive changes.

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 needed 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 still continue to have regular supervision and never fail to gain valuable insights to support me in my everyday practice. 

Supervisor training

I trained as a supervisor in 2009, keen to offer the same support to colleagues that I had experienced. My cohort were all therapists and throughout my training I was struck by how much the knowledge and skills they gained during their core counselling 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 undertook additional training post qualifying to fill some of the gaps. This was also my motivation for developing a bespoke Diploma in Supervision – my aim 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. This takes skill, sensitivity, and careful judgement to remain within the boundaries of supervision while ensuring the supervisee has been ‘heard’. It requires a depth and breadth of training to sit with others’ distress, support them without rescuing, and signpost them to therapy if necessary.

Moving forward

Professional supervision is becoming more established and accepted practice within the interpreting profession and there is increased recognition of the valuable contribution supervision can make both to the health of interpreters and, in turn, the service our clients receive.

I have often been asked whether it is necessary to train as a supervisor and whether length of experience in the profession is sufficient to support colleagues.  My response has been that supervision is not just about what supervisors do it is how they do it and that in-depth training is necessary to develop the skills, self-awareness, and careful judgment required of the role. 

Labyrinth Supervision was formed by the first cohort of supervisors who trained with 360 Supervision. There are currently 24 supervisors listed on the website, all of whom are interpreters who have completed recognised supervision training to diploma level.

The next cohort on the 360 Diploma will complete their training in the summer of 2024, further increasing the number of available supervisors. I am acutely aware of the gap in provision of supervision by and for D/deaf people and so the following course will be for D/deaf professionals, further expanding the pool of professional supervisors to support the valuable work we do.

My hope for the future is that all interpreter training courses will teach the importance and value of professional supervision with an expectation that interpreters will source a professional supervisor at the point of entry into the profession, both to support their well-being and ensure they are working effectively, ethically, and safely.

You can learn more about Ali Heatherington in her professional profile.

Scroll to Top