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<xTITLE>Do Mediators Make Unsubstantiated Claims?</xTITLE>

Do Mediators Make Unsubstantiated Claims?

by Stephanie West Allen
December 2013

Neuroscience and Conflict Resolution Blog by Stephanie West Allen

Stephanie West Allen

It is often a mystery to me why mediators will make statements about the practice of conflict resolution that are unproven or even inconsistent with research. Now, after reading "Why many clinical psychologists are resistant to evidence-based practice: Root causes and constructive remedies" (Clinical Psychology Review), I think I have some clues. Although the article is focusing on therapists, I believe it may relate to the attitudes and opinions of some conflict professionals.

The article does not help much to explain why mediators will make assertions about (and Tweet and reTweet) research they have not read (getting their information only from abstracts or press releases), but it does perhaps shed some light on other of their claims.

The authors in the article list six reasons for resistance to EBP (evidence-based practice). One of them is "naïve realism, which can lead clinicians to conclude erroneously that client change is due to an intervention itself rather than to a host of competing explanations." From the section on naive realism (cites removed for ease of reading):

...Naïve realism, also called common sense realism or direct realism, is the erroneous belief that the external world is exactly as we see it. This belief is deeply embedded in our intuitions. A host of phrases in everyday life attest to the power of naïve realism in our thinking: “Seeing is believing,” “I saw it with my own eyes,” “I'll believe it when I see it,” and “What you see is what you get.”

To a substantial extent, a preference for naïve realism over controlled research evidence reflects a prioritizing of unguided clinical intuition over systematic research. This predilection for intuition bears potentially important implications for attitudes toward EBP: In a study of 176 psychotherapists of diverse backgrounds, Gaudiano, Brown, and Miller (2011) found that an intuitive thinking style was associated with more negative attitudes toward EBP. Naïve realism is misguided for one key reason: The world is not precisely as we perceive it. Instead, what we see is in part constrained by reality, along with our preconceptions, biases, and interpretations (“apperceptions”; Morgan & Murray, 1935). To a substantial extent, “believing is seeing” at least as much as the converse.

Because of naïve realism, practitioners, trainees, and others may assume that they can rely exclusively on their intuitive judgments (“I saw the change with my own eyes”) to infer that an intervention was effective. As a consequence, they may misperceive change when it does not occur, or misinterpret it when it does.


...We refer to the multiple ways in which people can be fooled into believing that a treatment is working even when it is not as causes of spurious therapeutic effectiveness (CSTEs). CSTEs can make ineffective or even harmful interventions appear effective to therapists and other observers and, in many cases, clients themselves. Yet because they lie in the “causal background” rather than the foreground, CSTEs are likely to be unappreciated or ignored relative to the much more perceptually salient causal influences of psychotherapy.

Knowledge of CSTEs, we maintain, should be a mandatory component of the education and training of all clinical psychologists and other mental health professionals [I would add mediators]. Although a comprehensive list of CSTEs is beyond the scope of this article, we delineate some of the most crucial here.

Click to read the rest of the article. Highly recommended! It certainly made me think about possible biases under which I may be operating.



Stephanie West Allen, JD, practiced law in California for several years, held offices in local bar associations, and wrote chapters for California Continuing Education of the Bar. While in CA, Stephanie completed several five-day mediation training programs with the Center for Mediation in Law, as well as a two-year intensive with Center co-founder Gary Friedman. She has been a mediator for over two and one-half decades.

She is the author of Triversity Fantasy — Seven Keys To Unlock Prejudice, Creating Your Own Funeral or Memorial Service: A Workbook and many articles on workplace and professional issues for such publications as Lawyer Hiring and Training Report, Colorado Nurse, The Complete Lawyer, National Law Journal, Of Counsel, Law Practice and Denver Business Journal.

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Additional articles by Stephanie West Allen