Mediation credentialing: what about mediation trainers?

questions for the mediation fieldMuch discussion has taken place of late about credentialing or certifying mediators or what it means to prepare mediators for competent practice. All too often, number of hours of mediation training serves as proxy for proficiency and skill.  That is certainly the case in Massachusetts, which has a law protecting mediation communications from disclosure in court only if the mediation is conducted by a mediator who has, among other things, completed at least 30 hours of training. Recently mediators in Massachusetts considered increasing those hours from 30 to 40, although discussions stalled out and are now on hold.

Time and again I have heard Massachusetts mediators defend this provision, arguing that it protects the public.  In reality, it does not. Why? Two reasons. One, the 30 hours were pulled from thin air – an arbitrary number made up by the drafters of the Massachusetts law. And two, mediation trainers and training programs that prepare mediators for private practice are unregulated. Just as anyone can hold themselves out as a mediator in private practice, so, too, can anyone hold themselves out as a trainer of mediators. Quality of programs vary widely; some programs are good and some are not. Even if a mediator has 30 or 40 or 400 hours of training, where’s the assurance that any of that training was conducted by competent, knowledgeable instructors?

As we discuss what it takes to prepare individuals to become effective mediators, we must also be willing to look at what it takes to prepare individuals to teach or train mediators.

6 responses to “Mediation credentialing: what about mediation trainers?

  1. I coach, support and mentor new mediation trainers to deliver accredited / certificated six day mediation programmes. Each time I work with a new trainer it refreshes the scale and privilege of this undertaking. The course takes learners on a challenging and affecting journey. Trainers need to be suitably qualified and experienced in learning management as well as subject matter experts in mediation. Our accreditation is externally validated through an independent awarding body recognised in the UK by the Qualifications and Curriculum Framework. This body is all about learning and development. Some courses are ‘accredited’ within the industry e.g.: by a mediation body or host mediation organisation. How do they ensure quality and accountably on learning processes?
    Thanks Diane for nudging this issue to the fore.
    Steve Hindmarsh

  2. Hi Diane,

    Good question re: mediator trainers. I’m just starting out on my own journey of mentoring other mediators so this question caught my attention.

    I recently got exposed to the library of videos; an extensive collection of interviews with well-known mediators. What struck me going through all those interviews was the incredibly diverse ways mediators think about, and deliver, their services. It makes me think that an interdisciplinary, systems thinking approach to preparing mediation trainers/teachers would not be out of place, at least as an appreciative starting point! And following on that thought, creating a collage from video shorts (on would provide terrific backdrop/content for assisting other mediators with their self-exploration and development as mediators!

  3. Diane Levin

    Steve, you make me wish that I had the opportunity to see your own work as a trainer. Like you, I learn a great deal when I co-train or attend trainings taught by others. Cross-pollination and exposure to the work of others is critical. Unfortunately, there are programs I know of that work in a vacuum. Not healthy. Great points – I’m glad you took time to comment.

    Ben, I appreciate the reminder of this terrific resource made available. And what a good idea that collage would be. I hope my friends at are listening. Jim? John? You guys out there? What do you think? Thanks, Ben, I appreciate it.

  4. As I prepare to present a free one-day training on basic interest-based bargaining to a non-profit organization, I’m questioning myself: Am I qualified to do this? While part of me is excited about the opportunity to share what I believe to be valuable information, part of me is feeling: Yikes. . .I am not worthy!! I think back to my kung fu days (seriously): Even at the very beginner level, once we learned a specific skill, we were then instructed to teach that skill to a less experienced training partner. Throughout my years of training in, competing in, and teaching kung fu and self-defense, I came to realize this was an immensely important part of both learning and teaching. I’m hoping this concept might apply to my capability to share what I know about conflict analysis/management in a way that’s helpful. (Admittedly, I’m still thinking “YIKES!” Thanks for bringing up this topic.

  5. Matt Fenichel

    I’m not sure how one might combine two blog entries to respond to both at once, but I’ll cue all in here: I have on my screen side by side the June 3rd blog regarding Mediation Certification being back on track….( on track to derail no doubt) and this discussion of credentialing trainers to train in the subject of mediation.

    I had been mediating since 1980 with great desire to be only the very best I could be for the involved parties. My earliest training came from life, followed by a basic course through the BBB and later through another program offered in conjunction with the ABA. I sought out as many opportunities to train as I could possibly find and afford.

    With a background in both business and training, I began to train other myself, peer mediation, mediation for HR, I was recruited to mediate settlements amidst gangs. I was even asked to offer, “A Program on Mediation for Members of the Adversarial Bench”.

    I looked into doing a MS in Mediation, Dispute Resolution, Negotiation and a host of other titles, first when they were offered mostly through theology programs, and later as they became “free standing” programs and ultimately as some law schools sought to partner with other departments and offer programs based in the law school.

    I never cease to learn from such investigations, settlement meetings or otherwise. I learn as much from my parties to a negotiation as I did from professors and judges and lawyers who fancy themselves capable of mediation (which I find generally to be incorrect, adversarial education seems to prevent most from getting outside their box and mediating regardless of their intent).

    My observation and experience has been mostly confirmed by other in the filed, that here in the US, to make a living at Mediation you must have a JD and it sure helps to be a member of the bar.

    If you do not, you must teach or likely starve as the majority of mediation work will not be available to you.

    So….what does this have to do with training and certification and certification of trainers you might ask. The answer is simple….unless their is aggressive action to the contrary the unfortunate lot for mediation is cast.

    In our nation we have forgotten the roots of such noble professions as law and medicine and blacksmiths….it is called apprenticeships. The fate of both mediation and mediation training I have no doubt is being cast as we speak into granite, and what a waste of a resource it will be.

    I have no doubt soon only those who can pass the MSAT (Mediation School Admission Test) will be allowed to study for their degree. Then they will have to take the American Mediation Association’s equivalent t the bar, after having served their equivalent to have clerked for or done a residency in practice in form or another.

    We will have destroyed yet another great career path by both profiting and homogenizing it. The people who pass the test will all fit into a nice little box, those that study it will be taught to further fit into a nice little box, and those that are actually accepted into and able to practice the skill set will all have learned to fit into the same nice little box….just like most lawyers, doctors and judges. Its our nations way, its most human’s nature.

    There will be missteps along the way, and their will be mid course attempts to politically correct the matter, but in the end it will be what it will be. Another discipline within the educational system that serves to create income and the outcome will be those who’ve been “taught” not only how to mediate, but how to think, act and process their thoughts so as to facilitate an “acceptable outcome.

    Those of us with a true passion and “fire in the belly” for fair and reasonable resolutions to those issues confronting parties, including the education, certification and credentialing of mediators and those that would train, certify and anoint them will fall by the wayside or be pushed without choice as the practice of mediation becomes the profession of mediation.

    Another part of the equation will be the ability to end the practice of not for profit or free mediation of which their is way to much.

    While I am pleased to see the reduced cost of mediation touted as an advantage when compared to litigation, that should not be because the mediator is often times working for far less than they should be, or worse yet, free.

    We all know what our skills are worth, yet we are all to quick to subvert ourselves for the “greater good” or in hopes of generating income producing business as a result of our pro bono efforts.

    At the same time, it should be noted that more and more court systems are developing true programs of mediation, but note how many do require only members of the bar to be allowed to practice.

    While it would be good to have a system of qualification, we also need that system of qualification to continue to ensure a diversity of methodologies, personalities and so on…..

    Obviously I would welcome feedback, comments and or alternative points of view.

    Diane, thank you once again for addressing some interesting subject matters. While I do not seem to be able to find the time to follow yours and others blogs on frequent basis, I do try to catch what I can and find it informative and interesting, as well as purely enjoyable.

    All the best to all and thank you for your toleration….


  6. Diane Levin

    Matt, this is great stuff. I appreciate that time is limited, and I’m grateful to you for not only taking time to read but also to write a most thoughtful comment. You’ve raised important questions here – valuing our services, promoting innovation, the uneasy alliance between law and mediation, encouraging diversity, professionalization. These are all ongoing issues that the field struggles with. I have few answers, mostly questions, but am wide open to ideas. I’m glad that there are people like you to contribute to that discussion.