Language for the mind: three quick questions for Maria Cassaniti, manager of a multicultural mental health centre

Transcultural Mental Health Centre is located in Parramatta, the heart of Sydney’s ethnically diverse western suburbs. We asked TMHC’s manager, Maria Cassaniti, a few questions about how her sector makes use of T&I services.


Maria at a NSW Health Multicultural Media Online Conference focused on public health updates and the Transcultural Mental Health Line, a telephone service available to support people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities in NSW (February 2023)

1) How often and when do you require the services of a T/I (translator/interpreter) at Transcultural Mental Health Centre (TMHC)?

An interpreter is engaged when a bilingual clinician is unavailable to provide service inhouse with a specific language required. In such circumstances a cross-cultural assessment is undertaken between an experienced clinician, an interpreter, and the consumer and/or carer. An interpreter may also need to be engaged when a warm handover is undertaken with a service and a consumer. This may also present as an opportunity to build the skills of the referrer in working with an interpreter. We also engage translators in the development of multilingual mental health resources. TMHC has a culturally diverse and multilingual workforce, therefore we use T/Is in 15 to 20 percent of our work, sourcing practitioners via TIS, HCIS and private language service agencies.

2) What qualities do you value most in an interpreter, working in the mental health sector? Does this differ from what you look for in a translator?

With an interpreter we look for someone who can provide context to not just the words, but any meaning behind what is being said and how it is being communicated – for example, culture-specific gestures which are relevant to understanding what is going on for a consumer as they share their story. I do not want the interpreter to fix, change, clean up or edit the consumer’s words. It is not only what is being said, but rather how it is being said that is important, as this helps in understanding what is happening for that individual. The interpreter is a crucial member of the professional team in mental health service delivery. They can assist situations by giving exact renditions of content and of a client’s tone, describing aspects of speech that cannot be interpreted into English, helping a clinician to understand distorted speech, speech pace, sentence construction and intelligibility of words. With a translator, I’m looking for someone who can look at a written text and relay it to the community in such a way that the readers will be able to understand the message we’re trying to convey. When we test our resources in the community, it is important that the translator considers the feedback and either incorporates it into the text or provides a clear explanation as to why something should be written in the way proposed. As everywhere, the languages spoken in Australia have evolved differently than in the countries of origin, therefore there are local colloquialisms or terms, including mental health terms, which are more meaningful than a textbook translation.

3) What aspects of how a T/I works would encourage you to use them again?

Communication is of paramount importance in any clinical relationship. A T/I working in the mental health space must be approachable, engaging, professional, open to discussing and providing feedback, and comfortable working in this space. They are a key partner in supporting the quality of service a client receives and their recovery over both the short and the longer term.

Submission form

for court interpreters to report incidents or issues that occur in court interpreting assignments.

Purpose and function of this information submission form.

This form enables you to report issues or problems that you encounter in the course of court interpreting assignments. These issues and problems will be collected by AUSIT to report to the JCCD (the Judicial Council on Cultural Diversity) to monitor the implementation of the Recommended National Standards. The reporting of these issues and problems enables AUSIT to work with the JCCD to suggest steps to address these issues and to avoid the repetition of these problems in the future.

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