How to become a mediator: five frequently asked questions about training and careers in mediation

So you want to be a mediator? How to get started.I receive phone calls and emails almost daily from people exploring careers in the mediation field.

Although I have written several articles in the past which have discussed the training necessary to prepare for a career in mediation, explained the significance of certification for our field, and also suggested steps to transition from training to career, I thought it would be helpful to develop a list of FAQ’s, together with my answers, which refines and brings all of this information together in a single article for those who want to succeed in building a career as a mediator.

A couple of points before I start.

First, I recognize that other mediators may have different ideas and recommendations. Therefore, I welcome mediators to join the discussion and share with readers what’s worked for them in building a career. Comments are most definitely welcome, as they are for all the articles I publish here.

Secondly, the information I offer here concerns training and careers here in the U.S. only, since this is where I live and practice. I know very little about standards for mediation practice outside this country and consequently have no authority to describe them or provide information about them. Readers, if you’ve written an article about mediation training and careers, in say, England or New Zealand or Bulgaria or India or somewhere else in the world, please feel free to link to it in the comments section below.

Therefore, with no further ado, here are the 5 FAQ’s:

1. How can I get licensed or certified as a mediator?

To answer this question properly, I need to give you the big-picture perspective on a still-evolving profession.

Mediation is a field that has grown and evolved rapidly in recent years. As its influence and availability have increased, and as public awareness and acceptance of mediation services have spread, the mediation field has given rise to numerous models and theories of practice, a vast body of scholarship, together with ethical standards, laws, and well-established best practices to guide mediator conduct.

At the same time, this relatively new field continues to define itself. At the time I write this, no state in the U.S. has established a formal licensing or certification process for mediators. So, unlike other professions–medicine, law, education, social work, psychology, just to name a few–to date there exists no uniform regulatory scheme in the U.S. governing the private practice of mediation.

A few state courts, however, do certify mediators who receive referrals from or provide services to court-connected mediation programs. These mediators must fulfill certain standards, including the completion of a specified number of hours of mediation training, in order to qualify for certification.

Some professional associations for mediators also provide certification for certain classes of its members, but not in conjunction with or under the aegis of any state agency or body. In addition, some private training organizations offer what they describe as “certification training” which should not be confused with certification by a state court or other governmental body. Please be sure to ask what “certification” signifies and what it qualifies you for before registering for any training program.

For further information about certification, including some common misconceptions, please read “Getting it straight: understanding mediator certification“, an article published earlier here at Online Guide to Mediation.

2. What kind of training or education do I need to become a mediator?

Training.

First, please begin by reading the answer to Question 1, above, “How can I get licensed or certified as a mediator?”

A number of state courts have implemented qualifications standards, including training requirements, for mediators receiving referrals from courts or providing services in court-connected dispute resolution programs.

These standards vary widely from state to state. However, 40 hours of mediation training have emerged as a widely accepted standard nationwide.

For example, in Massachusetts, where I both live and work, a state law protecting the confidentiality of mediation specifies a minimum of 30 hours of training for mediators (Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 233, § 23C). The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Guidelines for Implementation of Qualifications Standards for Neutrals , which spell out requirements for mediators in court-connected dispute resolution programs, require a minimum of 30 hours of mediation training, with 36 to 40 hours recommended.

For a list of the requirements for each of the 50 states, see “State Mediator Rosters and Qualifications” prepared by the Institute of Government, College of Professional Studies at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. A number of state courts, incidentally, provide information online for people interested in becoming mediators. These include Virginia and Florida.

So, where do you find training? Training is available through private training organizations and community mediation programs, as well as through continuing education programs at colleges and universities. Visit the web site for professional associations for mediators, such as the Association for Conflict Resolution, to find a chapter in your area, which in turn will help you connect with chapter leaders who can assist you further.

Before you enroll in any mediation training program, please be aware that not all mediation training programs are worth your time or money. Since training is the first step toward a successful career in mediation, perform due diligence in selecting a training program. Please read my article, “What to look for in a basic mediation training“, as well as the excellent “Mediation Training Consumer Guide” from the Ohio Commission on Dispute Resolution & Conflict Management for tips on choosing a mediation training program and ideas on where to find training.

There are also basic and advanced trainings geared towards preparing mediators for work in specific practice areas such as family and divorce or workplace. These trainings not only cover mediation theory and skills but provide material and information necessary for understanding the issues and challenges unique to these practice specialties.

Finally, please visit this post I published in January on “Getting it straight: understanding mediator certification” and scroll down to the section captioned “One last caveat” for my two cents on online correspondence courses in mediation. (My advice? Don’t waste your money.)

Education.

There is also a growing movement aimed at encouraging those who are interested in becoming mediators to pursue education in the field. College, university and law degree or certificate programs in dispute resolution and mediation abound and provide a richer and more comprehensive immersion in mediation, negotiation and conflict resolution theory and practice than any 40-hour mediation training program can possibly provide. These include:

A list of additional programs in the U.S., Canada, and elsewhere around the world may be found here at the Peacemakers Trust web site.

I often recommend that people take a mediation training first, only because it represents a smaller financial investment than a higher education degree or certificate program, and it’s a good way to learn whether mediation is a good fit for you or not. Training is a low-risk way to assess your aptitude for conflict resolution. And the benefits are great, since mediation training provides skills easily transportable into any setting, professional or personal.

3. If mediation training is not required for private mediation practice, why should I bother to take a training?

Training gives you a number of advantages. First of all, a good mediation training will provide you with a theoretical framework to lend structure and context to your practice and promotes the development of core competencies. Mediation trainings introduce students to basic theories of conflict resolution and negotiation, skills and techniques for facilitating joint problem solving, and standards of practice and professional ethics–all of which form a necessary foundation for mediator effectiveness.

In addition, completing a mediation training or a degree program in conflict resolution is a step towards building professional credibility. Although we’re not there yet by any means, I can see the day when training will be required of even mediators in private practice; it makes sense now to get ahead of the curve.

Finally, training can lead to opportunities to mediate–real-world experience–since a number of organizations which provide training also oversee mediation programs or panels which students who successfully complete training may be eligible to join. And training will introduce you to your first professional network–both fellow students and the trainers.

4. Do I have to be a lawyer or have a law degree to become a mediator?

Although a small number of court-connected mediation programs permit only attorneys to serve as neutrals, the answer is a resounding no.

However, it is important to be aware that mediators who are not attorneys may be limited in the kinds of services they can perform for clients and need to be careful to avoid engaging in the unauthorized practice of law. (“Unauthorized practice of law” refers to the provision by a layperson of services an attorney uniquely provides. It can also refer to an attorney admitted in one jurisdiction providing legal services in a jurisdiction to which he or she has not been admitted.) In Connecticut, for example, a mediator who is not admitted to the Connecticut bar may assist a divorcing couple negotiate and reach decisions regarding parenting plans and the division of property and debt but is prohibited from drafting a separation agreement for them.

5. Once I complete my training, how do I get a job and get paid?

Be realistic. Although there are a seemingly infinite number of disputes, there are more and more mediators that you’ll be competing against. It takes time to build a successful mediation practice, and it won’t happen overnight. There are steps you can take to increase your chances of success, but there are no guarantees. Starting a mediation practice is like building any business. You need ambition, creativity, determination, talent, a business plan, a marketing strategy, and a certain measure of luck.

Practice, practice, practice. Taking a training or earning a degree is only a first step. You need experience in order to build a successful career. The best place to gain experience is by starting with the program that trained you. Find out from your trainers what opportunities are available and how to find them. Typically many mediators begin by volunteering their time in small claims or community mediation programs–all great learning laboratories for putting your training into practice. If possible, seek mentoring from more experienced practitioners and ask to observe them at work.

Keep your day job. Your current position counts in several ways. First of all, it’s a source of financial support, stability, and ready-made contacts. Begin by offering mediation to your clients or customers in addition to your existing services. It’s a way of testing the waters safely with relatively little risk. Second, the profession you’re in right now is a good source for referrals and an ideal place to begin networking. Third, you are more likely to succeed if you provide dispute resolution services in a field you know well, since prospective clients will view you as someone who understands their needs. Disputes abound in every field, whether health care, business, digital technology, environmental, education, labor, public sector, the law. Leverage your expertise to build a successful career.

Get connected. Join professional associations for mediators to get to know and make friends with other dispute resolution professionals. Other mediators are not only potential referral sources but your peers are invaluable resources to turn to as you wrestle with ethical dilemmas or other challenges in your practice. Not only should you join professional associations for mediators, but join associations for your profession of origin, your local chamber of commerce, or other civic, religious, political, or professional organization to cultivate and build your referral network. View every meeting, every introduction to someone new, as an opportunity to educate people about mediation and what mediation can do to help them solve their problems.

Keep learning. It’s called the practice of mediation for a reason–you never stop learning. Continuing education can increase your effectiveness and can open up new doors. It never hurts to get better at what you do.

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12 responses to “How to become a mediator: five frequently asked questions about training and careers in mediation

  1. Thank you for supplying this information. It was very helpful.

  2. Mobile Phones

    Great post, thanks. I would have added an extra point though, “When you can, do it.” ie, when you can go full-time take the risk! Don’t back down, rather stick to what it is that you love doing! And get out of the job that you don’t. Otherwise, you’re just never going to take the risk and eventually burn yourself out.Here in South Africa, this kind of business and career is not as it is in the US. There’s really not as many opportunities. This is how it is with every kind of career, though. I mean, the US just does have more opportunities. But it’s difficult maintaining a day job (and giving it the time and attention it deserves) and trying to build a career on the side. So, while it’s good to take things slow and not jump in with two feet— when it’s time to take the risk, take the risk! That’s the best way to live, and you’re never going to know until you actually just do it.

  3. Mobile Phones

    Here in South Africa, we are in need of some solid and good mediators. Why I say this is because we have been experiencing and awful lot of strikes from the public service lately, and the government and the unions can’t ever seem to come to a comfortable resolution. If you ask me, they’re both just being straight arrogant now and refusing to even negotiate due to their pride issues. The problem with strikes like this in this country is that it starts getting violent. Those that DO go to work, are beaten or threatened and so stay away from work – not because they’re striking, but because they’re too scared. And when the public service goes on strike, you can imagine the difficulties faced by hospitals etc.For a strike like this to carry on for 3 days in unacceptable. Perhaps if we had some strong mediators this could have been avoided.

  4. I am a lawyer from New Zealand, who has recently moved to the US (Seattle). I am looking into undertaking a mediation practice here with the hope to avoid sitting the ever daunting Bar exam here. I have found your comments/suggestions very helpful, so thank you. If you have any further advice, please contact me – I appreciate all the assistance I can get.Thanks!

  5. Thanks for your comment, Ryan. I’m really glad that you’ve found my posts helpful. I wish you’d given me some way to get in touch with you–but you’re welcome to email me. My contact information is available right on my blog in the right sidebar.Best of luck to you on your career path,Diane

  6. I am currently obtaining my degree in psychology and working towards getting my licence as a marriage and family therapist. I have always been interested in the field of mediation and always wanted to link both professions together. Do you think it is a good idea.

  7. Dear Anonymous, I’m afraid that without knowing more about you, your background, and other relevant information, it’s simply not possible to provide you with an answer to your question. What you may consider doing is to consult with your faculty advisors. It would also make sense to contact in your area marriage and family therapists who are also mediators to explore with them their recommendations for how you can best move forward–they would be able to provide you with advice based on their own first-hand experience. Best of luck to you,Diane

  8. First and foremost, I am very grateful for all the data on your Website. Thank you so very much! For 15 years I have been practicing conflict resolution (free of charge) for family and good friends. Over the years I have obtained a Bachelors Degree in Criminal Justice and Minor in Sociology. Masters in Public Administration and Minor in Business. A Doctorate Degree in Education and Leadership with emphasis in Instructional Design. I also passed the Law School Admission Test but decided not to go that route (not relevant).I have fully prepared myself to establish a Mediation Private Practice. My question is: Is it wise to be a General Mediator as oppose to picking an area (family, divorce, etc.)? I am not sure if a Jack-Of-All-Trade would work in mediation field.Can mediation services be provided via a home based business or should I consider having an office?Kindly provide your input.Thank you!Azzy

  9. Azzy, thanks so much for your kind comments–I’m really glad that the information here has been of help to you. I’m always reluctant to give advice without knowing more about someone’s situation. However, I’ll give it a shot, with the caveat that I am making some generalizations that may not apply to your circumstances.I think you could probably run a business with your home as your base if 1) you know that all your services will be delivered off-site or through digital technology, 2) you have access to a colleague’s conference room in the event that parties need neutral ground to meet on, and/or 3) you have a virtual office (which comes with real-world conference space for meetings). (For reasons I don’t think I need to go into, having people come to your home to deal with their conflict is probably not a good idea.) The digital age makes it easier for the small business owner to launch a business and create a professional presence without the need for large upfront expense. I do know of many ADR professionals who run successful businesses from their home while relying on virtual office space. In terms of whether it makes sense to specialize or be a generalist, I think there are different schools of thought on that. If you focus on a practice area, it makes it easier for you to market your services to target the needs of that audience. It can be tough–and even unrealistic–to try to create marketing materials and a web site that seek to appeal to everyone. (One reason why I maintain several different web sites.) On the other hand, focusing too narrowly could limit your opportunities. It’s a balance that only you can strike. Best of luck to you–and thanks again for your message!

  10. OZICHI JOEL ALIMOLE

    Dear Ms Levin,

    I have just read your expert remarks on Mediation. I am concerned about your views relating to Online Mediation training and certification programs. I agree that mediation training should be an interactive process, a kind face-to-face activity with instructors and other participants. This should be the ideal. However, I would not dismiss the merit of Online mediation training programs. To do so would cast doubt on the concept of Distance Learning which has revolutionized education in almost every discipline through the world.

    I suggest you recognize the merit of online mediation training and certification programs. I have an advanced degree in other fields and many years experience in diplomacy. I recently completed a mediation course with the American Center for Conflict Resolution Institute. The course structure is comprehensive enough to set the graduates on the path of mediation practice and further growth. For example, I don’t expect anyone to rush into private practice without a period of internship in an established Mediation Service.

    I would not dismiss Online Mediation training programs as not worth my two cents! That would hardly be the best way to advance the practice of mediation. Mediation is an emerging field and most people come to the profession from a wide range of backgrounds. People have their reasons for choosing the online training option and I believe they recognize that their success in the career will ultimately depend on previous educational background and experience, individual commitment, and motivation. Rather than dismiss the online option as a waste of time, you may perhaps wish to encourage the process and look for ways to improve on it so as to achieve the same degree of interaction and effectiveness as the face-to-face variety.

    On a final note Madam, I wish to thank you for your thoughtful insight into the mediation process.

  11. Mr. Alimole, thank you for your comments and raising your concerns. You make a valid point about distance learning, and I did not mean in any way to disparage online education or to suggest that it is never appropriate. Across a wide variety of subjects, it can be an effective way to promote learning and the acquisition of skills.

    However, I stand by what I said about online mediation training in another post, which I will repeat here:

    If you’re thinking about getting training in mediation, please be aware that great mediation training is highly experiential and interactive, reinforcing the notions of collaboration and teamwork. Acquisition of learning is achieved through interpersonal interaction–through class discussions, multi-party exercises, and role-playing. It’s a very much hands-on experience to get students in touch with the deeply interpersonal dynamics of mediation itself.

    I would therefore caution you about mediation trainings offered as correspondence or distance learning courses which students complete online and at their own pace with no interaction with other students.

    A mediation correspondence course which affords no opportunity for face-to-face and group interaction with coaches and fellow students is simply no substitute for the real thing.

    (Please note that I am not referring here to training in online dispute resolution (ODR), an approach to resolving conflict using the Internet as a medium for communication and problem-solving. ODR by definition is conducted online, so training in ODR will of course utilize computer and Internet technology.)

    Therefore, be cautious of a mediation training program conducted entirely online which purports to prepare you for face-to-face interactions with parties in conflict.

    It sounds like you had a positive experience with your own program. Good for you. However, I have not yet learned of an online mediation training program that I would personally be willing to recommend for the reasons I have just specified here. That’s my opinion, as you have your own.

    Also, please note that I did not say that online mediation training programs are not worth two cents. What I said was, “scroll down…for my two cents on online correspondence courses in mediation. (My advice? Don’t waste your money.)” The two cents I referred to was my opinion, as in the expression “my two cents’ worth”.

    Thank you again for your comments.

  12. Very helpful info. I’m currently trying to get into a Gov’t retraining program to expand on skills I have picked up as a labour advocate over the last 20 years. I’m finding it very difficult to make my “business case” showing viable potential employment at the end of the retraining…..but I’ve found some invaluable resources and ideas on this website…..With a little luck,(and of course approval from the canadian gov’t) maybe I’ll be contributing to the site in the very near future!!!

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