I was drawn to mediation because of what I saw as its unique ability to create greater happiness. After taking my first mediation training in 1995, I sensed that through mediation, it could be possible to (a) help individuals think more clearly about what they want, (b) help individuals communicate and be understood better, and (c) help people toward a satisfying resolution of their dilemmas. My belief was that these goals could address many of the things in life that make individuals unhappy. I saw it as an alternative to therapy that was suitable for people who were not seeking “treatment”* by a mental health professional.
We have become a society in which problems are directed to mental health professionals. Yet many problems have nothing to do with mental health. Instead, they have to do with confusion; uncertainty; lack of communication; problematic societal dictates, goals and expectations; conflicts between personalities; conflicts between individuals and societal norms and expectations; and prejudices against certain temperaments and personality types, racial groups, orientations; etc.
Many people want to find a way to address their problems without being “treated” by a mental health professional, but are at a loss as to where to go. Mediation by trained and skilled facilitative mediators can offer these individuals exactly what they are looking for. Mediators who uphold the principles of neutrality, self-determination and respect encourage the parties to think, perhaps freeing the parties from their own preconceived ideas about what is possible for them; and facilitate communication between parties. Mediators can even mediate with one person. It can be called coaching or it can simply be viewed as mediating within a person’s own conflicted mind.
Mediation need not be viewed as a process by which a neutral helps people come to a resolution; it can be viewed as a process by which a neutral helps people go to the next step; whether it is clarifying a thought process, communicating with another person, or simply organizing a person’s thinking. Mediation can be that good friend or that parent who wants to help and who can be organized, analytical and insightful, without offering his own solutions. Offering solutions is inappropriate because the dilemma that a party brings to mediation is that he has a disruption in his mind or in a relationship that is causing dissatisfaction. The only way for that dissatisfaction to be addressed is by the party understanding it and finding the resolution to it. Outsiders have no access to a real understanding of how the dilemma feels and how it can best be remedied, so it can only be addressed by the individual. The mediator can support and focus the party’s thinking, but the thinking must come from the party.
It is time to convey to the world what mediation has to offer. Therapy is for those who wish to be “treated” by a mental health professional. Mediation is for those who need help with an issue or a problem. Viewing mediation in this way answers a need that people have been struggling with without even recognizing it.
Mediators who were trained in, apprenticed and mentored in interpersonal mediations such as community mediation, and who have begun to do relationship mediation (sometimes called marital mediation, matrimonial mediation, or couples mediation), family mediation, parent-teen mediation, and coaching, among others, are attempting to address the need for this type of service. I applaud this development and this direction, but caution that here, especially, mediators must be well trained and appropriately experienced and mentored in the process of facilitative mediation.
* I use the word “treatment” in this article to mean whatever approach a mental health professional is trained to take with a patient or client, and which requires it to be provided by a trained mental health professional.