How Do We Mediate?

While recently completing a questionnaire sent out by an academic I found myself generally a bit stumped by having to try to give pretty black and white answers when my experience of mediation is that the interest and the creativity lies in the grey areas. One question was however impossible to answer. It asked whether I practised structured, transformative, narrative or facilitative family mediation.

There the questionnaire had me as I don’t practise any particular given model of mediation. I would be interested to know whether any mediators do and, if they do, how that deals with the infinite variability of the needs and the personalities of individual clients.

I believe that as one becomes more experienced as a mediator, one learns that the fundamental professional and principled structure of the process allows a substantial element of creativity as to the actual techniques which one uses. Individual meetings with each client before the mediation starts offer clues not only as to the issues but also as to the personalities and drivers of each client. Part of my preparation for a first session is to consider not only what needs to be brought into the process (always allowing room for those curve balls which clients lob into the room!), but also how I might go about it. That has to be just a start as any mediator has to be able to adapt to the actual flow once the process begins. However it is usually pretty clear in most mediations about children that there needs to be some basic starter work on communication. If communication is very dysfunctional, if one is compelled to apply a label, I guess that means transformative work. However, hang on a minute, that probably also entails addressing the underlying conflict stories.

The questionnaire asked about the disadvantage of the model one follows which I think makes my point. Surely no mediator can religiously pursue a model come what may which isn’t working in any particular scenario. Whilst it’s true that financial mediation requires a good structural underpinning as nobody in my experience gets much beyond first base without the facts and figures building blocks, the mediator’s role is surely to build that structure whilst always hearing and appreciating that it almost always isn’t all just about those facts and figures.

The beauty of mediation for me is that it is a creative process to which the mediator brings his or her skills as each couple requires without spending a great deal of time worrying about models whilst never losing sight of principles. If there are mediators out there rigidly wedded to following a particular model, the danger is that the actual needs of clients may well be overlooked. It is our process but they are their issues, their history and their individual personality types which in my view dictate what approach the mediator should take.

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