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Building a Family Mediation Practice (Family Conflict Mediation)

I was recently called by a newly trained mediator. She had taken a forty hour class and informed me that she was now ready to sign up with the local Federal Court to take two or three mediations a week. All she wanted from me was the right telephone number so that she could make the call and get started.

I gently explained that the judge for our division was actually four counties away and that if she was the only mediator on his entire local docket she would not be able to meet her goals unless she was looking towards two or three mediations a year.

In trying to be kind as I broke the news, I got her to talk about her skills, goals and abilities. As we talked, she began to realize that while she was not likely to be an immediate success as a mediator of federal civil lawsuits, she was the perfect person for a completely empty market niche in a community of several counties and a total population of over two hundred thousand people.

As a licensed social worker with a substantial family counseling experience, she was the person a number of professionals had been looking for -- a family mediator.

While much of the attention in the current mediation market focuses on lawsuits, there is a strong need for the mediation of other disputes in other arenas. Victim-offender mediation is strong and growing. School yard conflict mediation is heavily financed at a federal level with generous grants. And family mediation, in many areas, is an almost completely empty area of mediation practice.

Family practice mediation usually begins with family counseling. Many have noted that family counseling is more effective when each spouse has their own counselor. This is because typically the husband will resist the counselor the wife has been seeing (or vice versa) and will not make progress until he (or she) sees someone perceived as being on "their" side.

This had led to the trend of co-counseling being recognized and widely used. The issue that co-counseling creates is the lack of a perceived neutral. Further, in most family relationships that have run into trouble, the parties need to engage in relearning the process of give and take.

What a family mediator, more formally, a Family Conflict Mediator, does, is help the parties get the process of give and take in motion. In a divorce, the parties appear with attorneys to finish dividing themselves. In a healing family, they appear with their counselors and healers, and begin anew on joining back together.

To market such skills, the family conflict mediator needs to understand the process of healing give and take. They then make contact with family practice counselors, psychologists, social workers and others. To market yourself you contact the professionals involved.

The mediator educates the other professionals as to what mediation brings to the table. Mediation becomes a form of intervention that enhances, rather than replaces, traditional counseling. Often the professionals are mediators themselves (and members of SPDR or other associations).

In the case of my caller, I gave her the names of several people who use co-counseling techniques, who understand and conduct mediations, and who have been looking for a family conflicts mediator.

If you have a background in social work, family counseling or a related field, and have had mediation training, I would hope you would consider making the same types of contacts. While not every community has professionals looking and hoping for someone with your background, when they understand what you can do and how you can do it, they will be as happy to see you as they would have been if only they were looking.

It is "only" an incremental step. Almost everyone in the field is aware of treating an entire family from a mediation perspective as the only professional involved. The current education approaches all focus on divorce and court-annexed mediations. It is natural to also have mediation when the parties have co-counseling going on.

From a theory perspective it may be "only incremental," but to the counselors involved it is an important trend that truly brings solid benefits to the families and patients involved and one that deserves the attention of mediators everywhere.

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Copyright 2000 Stephen R. Marsh

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