The Mediation Profession

I’ve been a mediator for 27 years. I have always passionately believed that if mediators are to be taken seriously, what we do has to be regarded as a profession. Whatever the struggle that mediation still has to become established in the public mind as an alternative way of resolving disputes, the reality is that family mediation is embedded in the family justice system- at least in statute and on paper despite the fact that some courts continue not to apply the MIAM rules. That means that we mediators owe it to the public to whom we offer our services, those who refer work to us, the courts and to ourselves to be professional.

You may feel that goes without saying. However mediation is a relatively new kid on the block. It didn’t evolve, at least in a formal sense, over centuries as has the legal profession. That means it is still findingĀ its professional feet.

The starting point for that in any case has to be a system of regulation. I can’t call myself a doctor, solicitor or barrister unless I have met certain training standards to qualify and also continue to meet standards as I practice. Patients and clients are entitled to expect that a title is more than words. Exactly the same applies as regards mediators.

Happily we have now had for several years a system of accreditation in place through the Family Mediation Council. Its introduction produced some wailing and gnashing of teeth. Why? Well, there are an awful lot of people out here who attended a foundation training course and feel that alone entitles them to practice. Accreditation means that foundation training is just the start. To be FMCA (Family Mediation Council Accredited), a new mediator must produce a portfolio of work and meet other criteria. It’s much akin to a solicitor’s training contract. It recognises that a basic level of knowledge and competence doesn’t make a mediator.

What does? Only actually mediating can achieve that. It’s only through doing so that one learns that mediation is indeed a profession in its own right, demandingĀ a set of skills and knowledge unlike that of any other profession in which one may be qualified. Doing the work to attain accreditation is, for those who get it, a steep learning curve. I always remember one of my supervisees whose whole approach shifted as she worked towards accreditation as she realised just how different skilled mediation is to anything else.

So that’s accreditation. After that family mediators have to meet what I feel are very basic criteria to maintain accreditation linked to hours spent with a supervisor, CPD and annual practice hours. Those last are a bit of a bugbear for me. I find it hard to accept that 15 hours a year a mediator makes. It’s a minimal amount. I know that when I stopped lawyering and only mediated, my mediation practice improved. The more you do of it, the more you learn.

Why am I going on about all this now? Well, in part to flag that it matters that clients see a FMCA mediator who has attained a professional qualification. Mainly however it’s because FMC is consulting as to the accreditation standards. I’ve just read the survey results. In many areas requirements for new mediators are seen as challenging, even very challenging. A lot of that I feel stems from the difficulty in getting the necessary work to complete a portfolio. I have to say though that it’s my experience that those who train with a cogent plan as to what they will do next to establish a practice, do get there.

Personally I feel strongly that we should not water down any of the requirements. The mediation profession and, more importantly, those it serves, deserve and require the highest standards. Would you want to see a dentist who got a degree but has hardly ever looked inside an actual mouth and who doesn’t keep up to date?

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