Transformative mediation is thriving in Brno, Czech Republic. I visited a group of mediators there a couple weeks ago. On July 16th, I met with 12 of them, all of them professional transformative mediators, for a workshop to enhance their skills. These mediators work for two programs that transform parenting disputes. Robin Brzobohaty leads the program for The Office for International Legal Protection of Children and Martina Cirbusová heads the Brno Mediation Center. Their caseload contains some of the most challenging situations imaginable, including parents who are desperately worried about their children and their relationship with them and who are in serious conflict with each other.
The workshop focused on how to handle high conflict situations. Transformative mediators, who are committed to a largely non-directive approach, need to make tough judgment calls about when and whether to intervene more forcefully. Our conversation touched on the possibility of checking in with parties on a variety of levels: “Are you happy with how this conversation is going? Or is there something different you’d like to try?”, for example. Or, “I know you originally said you wanted to make a parenting schedule – you’ve been talking about a variety of other issues – did you want to talk about a schedule – or are you covering what you want to?” We discussed the importance of remaining genuinely committed to supporting the parties’ own choices in the conversation, abstaining from acting on any preferences of our own. These check-ins must in fact be essentially a reminder to the parties that they have the opportunity to make choices in this particular moment.
Transformative mediation first appeared in the Czech Republic when Joe Folger trained Brzobohaty and Lenka Poláková (who heads the Mediation Center in Olomouc) in Milan, Italy. Brzobohaty and Poláková next trained all of the transformative mediators in Czech Republic, including the ones I met. As these mediators help parents get to a better place with their conflicts, Brzobohaty and Cirbusová are also helping transform the entire system in the Czech Republic. For the past 4 years, they’ve been working with judges and court-based social workers, helping them collaborate to decrease the harm that the traditional adversarial approach has on children of parents in conflict.
These mediators have also made an additional advance in parenting mediation in the way they include children. All children in a parenting dispute receive the help of a child specialist. That specialist’s job is to pay attention to the child(ren) and help them decide to what extent they want to be involved in the mediation. The child may choose to stay out of it entirely, to ask the specialist to convey a message to the parents, to speak for themselves in the mediation, with the presence of the specialist, or to leave the specialist out of it, and participate directly in the mediation themselves. This approach goes beyond common practices in the US, where children are sometimes involved but where far less care is taken to give the child actual self-determination within the process.
The influence of transformative mediation has grown in Europe in recent years. There are now certified transformative mediators in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia, The United Kingdom, as well as Brzobohatý, Poláková, and Cirbusová in the Czech Republic (and Cirbusová is also available in Slovakia).