If your patient is not fluent in speaking English or feels more comfortable communicating in a language other than English they may need an interpreter.


Why use an interpreter?


Assessment, diagnosis and treatment in mental health settings are often reliant on the interview between the patient and clinician.  

When a patient is unable to speak English or feels more comfortable speaking in a language other than English the presence of an interpreter can facilitate communication and improve assessment and treatment outcomes.

It is important when using an interpreter to use an accredited interpreter rather than a friend, family member or bilingual staff member.

Emotional involvement, untested language ability and unfamiliarity with complex terminology may lead to omissions and mistranslations when using a friend or family member to interpret. This can result in misunderstandings, misdiagnosis and ultimately, poorer health outcomes.

Accredited interpreters are professionally trained, experienced, committed to confidentiality and work under a strict code of ethics.

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When to use an interpreter


Your decision to use an interpreter during a consultation will be influenced by a range of factors. Situations where an interpreter should be used include:

  • When a patient requests an interpreter
  • Where a patient cannot speak and/ or understand English 
  • In stressful situations or where socially or psychologically complex issues are raised (such as mental health issues)
  • Where matters of patient safety are concerned (e.g. consent for interventions).

Keep in mind that although a patient may be able to communicate on a social level in English, they may not be able to understand more complex information, and may need an interpreter.  

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How to access interpreters


Interpreting services for clinicians

The Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS) provides interpreters to assist organisations and agencies to communicate with non-English speaking clients. To register to use the TIS services, visit the TIS website

When making a booking with TIS please provide your client’s name, country of birth, language (and dialect if relevant), preferred gender of interpreter, location and anticipated duration of booking and your own name and contact details.

Medical Practitioner Priority Line

If you are an eligible medical practitioner you can access the Medical Practitioner Priority Line 24 hours a day, every day of the year. The Line is a free phone interpreting service which helps medical practitioners quickly connect to an interpreter to communicate with their non-English speaking patients. Contact the TIS National Language policy liaison team for more information.

Health Care Interpreter services

If you are part of NSW Health there are Health Care Interpreter Services located in Local Health Districts throughout the state that can provide interpreter services. For a list of Health Care Interpreter and Translation Services and their contact details visit the NSW Health, Health Care Interpreting and Translating Services web page.


Free Translating Service

The Australian Government, Department of Social Services provides a free translating service for people settling permanently in Australia. The purpose of the Free Translating Service is to support participation in employment, education and community engagement.

Permanent residents and select temporary or provisional visa holders are able to have up to ten eligible documents translated, into English, within the first two years of their eligible visa grant date. Visit the Free Translation Service Website for further information

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Working with Interpreters


An interpreter's role is to facilitate communication in an impartial and confidential manner without distortion or omission. An interpreter should not offer opinion or guidance. It is important to note that interpreting does not always involve a word for word interpretation of what is being said, as a word or phrase may not have a direct equivalent in another language, rather an interpreter conveys the meaning of what is being communicated. 

Working with interpreters in mental health settings can be challenging. When working with interpreters consider: 

  • Briefing the interpreter before the session.
  • Setting up the room in a way that facilitates communication.
  • During the session speak to the person experiencing a mental health issue rather than the interpreter and maintain appropriate eye contact.
  • Use short sentences, be patient, provide time for the interpreter to interpret.
  • As far as is practical avoid using technical language.
  • Be aware of both verbal and non-verbal communication. 

Watch a video from the Western Sydney Local Health District Health Care Interpreter Service about Working with interpreters in the healthcare setting

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Further Reading


The following resources provide further information about working with interpreters in mental health settings:

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