The third party: Psychologists' attitudes regarding the use of sign language interpeters

Cynthia L. Whitaker (2006)

Approximately 23 million people in the United States have a hearing loss and approximately 1 million of them are classified as deaf. The base rates of psychological disorders within the deaf community are assumed to be similar to that of the wider population of the United States. Yet, because deaf Americans tend to communicate through American Sign Language and the majority of psychologists are not fluent in this language, fewer than 10% of those who are deaf and in need of psychological services receive them (Vernon, 1983). Utilizing sign language interpreters could potentially increase the percentage of deaf people who receive treatment; however, traditionally, many therapists have not been amenable to having a third party in the therapy room. A study conducted by P. Maher and J. Waters (1984) surveyed a group of counselors with experience working with deaf people, many of whom reported not being willing to use interpreters. During the past 20 years, however, there has been a trend toward increased cultural sensitivity in the field of psychology, so these results from 20 years ago may not reflect current attitudes toward interpreters. The current study expanded on this previous study by surveying a nationwide random sample of 108 psychologists. The majority of participants reported some degree of willingness to use sign language interpreters, and the results indicated that the number of years participants were licensed was significantly negatively correlated to willingness. There was also a trend for a negative relationship between experience with interpreters and willingness. Identified barriers that contributed to reluctance to use interpreters in treatment and ideas for future research are also discussed. It is hoped that the factors and barriers discovered in this study will lead to a better understanding of the barriers to using interpreters in mental health settings with the goal of increasing the accessibility and utilization of services by deaf people.