Much 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.