Prevalence and Risk Factors for Secondary Traumatization in Refugee Crisis Interpreters: A Cross-sectional Study.

David Kindermann, C Schmid, T Schell, K Bozorgmehr, M Thalheimer, Judith Daniels, W Herzog, C Nikendei

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20 Citations (Scopus)


Background: A substantial proportion of refugees, fleeing persecution, torture, and war, are estimated to suffer from psychological traumatization. After being sheltered in reception centers, the refugees come in close contact with different occupational groups, e.g., physicians, social workers, and interpreters. Previous studies ascertained that such interpreters themselves often suffer from primary psychological traumatization. Moreover, through translating refugees' potentially traumatic depictions, the interpreters are in danger of developing a so-called secondary traumatization. Objective: The present study aimed (1) to analyze the prevalence rates of primary traumatization in interpreters, (2) to assess the prevalence of secondary traumatization, depression, anxiety, and stress symptoms, (3) to examine the association between secondary traumatization symptoms and resilience factors in terms of sense of coherence, social support, and attachment style, and (4) to test whether these resilience factors mediate the relationship between primary and secondary traumatization. Methods: Participating interpreters (n = 64) were assessed for past exposure to potentially traumatic events as well as symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), secondary traumatization, depressive symptoms, anxiety, and subjective stress levels. Furthermore, we conducted psychometric surveys to measure interpreters' sense of coherence, degree of social support, and attachment style as potential predictors. Results: (1) 9% of the interpreters fulfilled all criteria for PTSD and a further 33% had subclinical PTSD; (2) a secondary traumatization was present in 21% of the examined interpreters - of these, 6% showed very high total scores indicating a severe secondary traumatization; furthermore, we found higher scores for depression, anxiety, and stress as compared to representative population samples, especially for females; (3) a present sense of coherence, an existing social support network, and a secure or preoccupied attachment style correlated significantly with low scores for secondary traumatization; and (4) a significant correlation emerged between primary and secondary traumatization (r = 0.595, p < 0.001); a mediation analysis revealed that this effect is partially mediated by secure attachment. Conclusion: A substantial proportion of interpreters working with refugees suffer from primary as well as secondary traumatization. However, high scores for sense of coherence and social support, male gender, and especially a secure attachment style were identified as resilience factors for secondary traumatization. The results may have implications for the selection, training, and supervision of interpreters.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)262-272
Number of pages11
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2017

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