Category Archives: Mediation Training

Intuition and Creativity Workshop on June 24 with mediation pioneer Albie Davis

On Tuesday, June 24, 2008, influential thinker and ADR pioneer Albie Davis presents an “Intuition and Creativity Workshop” for mediators at Suffolk University Law School in Boston.

Albie enjoys a well-deserved reputation as a true innovator who has made significant contributions to the development and advancement of mediation and conflict resolution during the course of her decades-long career.

From the workshop description:

You tune up your car every few thousand miles. Schedule annual health exams. Is it time for an Intuition and Creativity Tune-up of your mediator readiness? Mediators must think on their feet; use the famed five senses, plus ones with no name; make rapid assessments of the need of parties and momentum of negotiations; be on the lookout for “magical moments,” draw upon theory, research, ethics and personal practice; separate the wheat from the chaff; and more. In this day-long seminar, we will revisit various theories about mediation, negotiation, creativity, change, culture and human behavior. Drawing upon the experience of presenters and participants, we’ll role-play, invent and try new things; be irreverent, if we must. Each person will leave with a self-administered intuition checkup sheet with strengths identified and tips for improving one’s personal best.

I am proud to say that Albie Davis recently joined my firm, OptionBridge, as an affiliate, and my partners and I are deeply honored to be able to offer this program to our colleagues in the mediation community in June. To register, visit the OptionBridge web site, or for more information click here to download the flyer in PDF.

Art education may help prepare future lawyers (and mediators)

Art teaches habits necessary for adult work lifeEducators and parents have long accepted the notion that introducing children to art fosters creativity, builds cultural literacy, and makes for well-rounded human beings.

Art education however may in fact achieve far more than that: namely, help children develop important skills and habits necessary to the work they will ultimately do as adults, according to a recent study described in a Boston Globe article, “Art for our sake: School arts classes matter more than ever – but not for the reasons you think“. Two researchers with Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Ellen Winner and Lois Hetland, describe the surprising results of their study and the implications they hold for the future of education.

They discovered that art teaches children key “studio habits of mind”, including persistence, expression, and the ability to make clear connections “between schoolwork and the world outside the classroom”–in other words, to see real-world applications for the lessons learned in class.

Researchers noticed something important at the very beginning:

The first thing we noticed was that visual arts students are trained to look, a task far more complex than one might think. Seeing is framed by expectation, and expectation often gets in the way of perceiving the world accurately. To take a simple example: When asked to draw a human face, most people will set the eyes near the top of the head. But this isn’t how a face is really proportioned, as students learn: our eyes divide the head nearly at the center line. … Observational drawing requires breaking away from stereotypes and seeing accurately and directly…Seeing clearly by looking past one’s preconceptions is central to a variety of professions, from medicine to law [emphasis added]. Naturalists must be able to tell one species from another; climatologists need to see atmospheric patterns in data as well as in clouds. Writers need keen observational skills too, as do doctors.

The authors conclude:

For students living in a rapidly changing world, the arts teach vital modes of seeing, imagining, inventing, and thinking. If our primary demand of students is that they recall established facts, the children we educate today will find themselves ill-equipped to deal with problems like global warming, terrorism, and pandemics.Those who have learned the lessons of the arts, however – how to see new patterns, how to learn from mistakes, and how to envision solutions – are the ones likely to come up with the novel answers needed most for the future.

How well did your own education prepare you to master those habits?

(Photo credit: Carlos Paes.)

Questioning authority: teaching new mediators the value of open-ended questions

Teaching the use of questions in mediation trainingThere’s a story I tell when I teach mediation students how to ask effective questions:

A guy walks into a bar. He strolls up to the bartender and asks for a glass of water. The bartender looks at him–then flies into a rage, pulls out a gun from under the counter, and aims it straight at the guy’s head. The guy thanks the bartender and leaves the bar.

I instruct my students to figure out the ending of the story using only yes/no questions.

People start asking, “Did the bartender know the guy?” “Was the bartender out of water?” “Was the gun loaded?” “Was the guy a robber?” “Was the guy sleeping with the bartender’s wife?” “Was it a water gun?”

A dozen or so questions later, they’ve given up. All the yes/no questions in the world can’t solve the puzzle for them. So I tell them that I’ll give them one more chance. This time they can ask me an open-ended question to figure out the ending of the story. Someone will then ask, “Okay, so why did the guy thank the bartender for pulling a gun on him?”

Then I say,

Funny you should ask. The guy walked into the bar and asked for a glass of water because he had the hiccups. The bartender saw immediately what the problem was but knew that the best cure for the hiccups is to scare the pants off someone. So he pulled out the gun and aimed it at the guy’s head. That cured his hiccups, so the guy thanked the bartender and left the bar.

What usually follows is the sound of loud groans, laughter, and palms smacking foreheads.

The point of course is that you can waste time and work hard asking closed questions and never come close to understanding what’s really going on. On the other hand open-ended questions give mediators plenty of traction to draw out interests, elicit solutions, and address roadblocks. They get parties thinking–which is exactly what they’re designed to do.

(Unfortunately I cannot take credit for this story–which is really a lateral thinking puzzle. One of my mediator friends–and I can no longer remember which one since it was quite a few years ago–taught it to me. Now I pass it along to you in the spirit in which I shared a negotiation style game earlier this year. Fellow mediation trainers, please free to use it.)

Ten habits of highly successful mediation trainers

Mediation trainers strive to be their best--10 tips to help them get thereMediation trainers face an important responsibility. We prepare individuals for mediation practice, playing an integral role in the foundational stages of their professional development.

In addition to being effective trainers, as mentors we must demonstrate exemplary mediation skills ourselves, modeling for our students effective communication skills, collaborative problem solving techniques, patience, and respect. In that sense, mediation training constitutes a microcosm of mediation practice itself.

Serving as a trainer is a profound commitment, not just to the individuals we teach but to the advancement of the field and to building public confidence in our profession.

The best trainers I know are always looking for ways to get better at what they do. I was glad to discover, via George’s Employment Blawg, this top ten list of attributes of an effective trainer from the Canadian IT Manager blog, part 2 of a two-part article. Part 1 lists 10 additional attributes, including one which particularly resonated with me: willingness to be a lifelong learner. After all, as those of us who train know, our students can be our best teachers.

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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?


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.)


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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An ideal tool for mediation trainers: New application converts digital images of flipcharts into searchable PDF files

Application allows photographs of documents to be converted into searchable PDF filesWe mediation trainers tend to be Luddites when it comes to the tools of our trade. Most of us would rather use flipcharts and markers than PowerPoint slides and LCD projectors any day of the week.

Flipcharts you can stick all over the walls to mark your group’s progress or to refer back to easily to reinforce concepts. Flipcharts encourage spontaneity and the free flow of ideas, enabling trainers to involve students in creating the content of the flipchart pages. PowerPoint presentations, on the other hand, seem static and contrived in comparison. I use both, but I think you can guess what my preference is.

The downside, of course, to flipcharts is that you can’t easily photocopy them for distribution or email them to your students–not unless you or someone else painstakingly transcribes them. There is a solution, however, for those of us who seek ways to integrate 21st technology into 20th century practices.

Via the excellent blog comes this post about scanR, an application that, in the words of its web site, “uses advanced imaging processing and data extraction technologies to convert photos into legible, searchable PDF files”. Using a camera phone or digital camera, you simply photograph a document, whiteboard, or flipchart, email your photo off to scanR, and receive back via email your photograph converted into universally accessible PDF format which you can then forward to your group. You can try it (and use it, if my eyes don’t deceive me) for free.

Of course for more tech tools that even anti-modernist mediators will love, be sure to visit Tammy Lenski’s Mediator Tech.

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What to look for in a basic mediation training

It's important to find the right mediation trainingI frequently get phone calls from people who are interested in becoming mediators. These people are motivated by a desire to help others, to transition into a more satisfying career, or to learn skills to help them do their current jobs more effectively. They come to me for help in finding a place where they can get training to help them achieve their goals.

What I typically discover is that the vast majority of these individuals do not know what questions they should be asking to help them choose the best training possible. They have no idea what they should be looking for in a training program. And that’s a big problem. While there are excellent programs providing mediation training, there are also some training programs that are woefully inadequate. Be smart in choosing a training.

My purpose in writing this article is to raise public awareness of the importance of doing your homework when it comes to making decisions regarding choosing a mediation training. Taking a mediation training constitutes an investment in your professional development, representing an important commitment of both time and money. The last thing you want is to waste either one of those precious commodities.

If you are interested in undergoing training to become a mediator, be an educated consumer. Research trainers and training programs carefully before making a commitment. The following questions were developed to assist you in gathering the information you will need to make an informed decision regarding the selection of an appropriate mediation training program.

1. What preliminary questions should I ask?

At present, there is no uniform regulatory scheme governing the practice of mediation, and, unlike other professions, such as law or medicine, there is no formal licensing or credentialing of mediators. States and governmental bodies such as courts set forth different requirements for mediators and mediation practice, so you should find out what requirements or qualifications standards for mediators are specified by the state you plan to practice in. (See Section 3, below, for information on Massachusetts.) A lead trainer or director of a training program should be familiar with these requirements.

Second, even within the field there are differing perspectives on how mediation itself should be defined and what constitutes the practice of mediation. You should be aware that there are different models and approaches—facilitative, transformative and evaluative—in mediation practice which define the mediator’s role in different ways. The facilitative is probably the best-known and most commonly taught. Be sure to find out what philosophy the training program utilizes and what core beliefs and values the program will teach participants.

Third, find out from the lead trainer what kinds of skills and techniques they believe are integral to effective mediation practice. Ask what the training will prepare students for upon its conclusion. Ask whether the program utilizes solo or co-mediation and why.

Fourth, in addition to inquiring about the program’s philosophy, it is also important to ask about the design of the mediation training program. How will skills and concepts be taught? What information will students receive on ethical guidelines and issues? What is the student to teacher ratio? How is time allocated among presentation, group discussion, and application, including role-playing? What kinds of materials, including a manual, will be provided to students? What is the bibliography for this program?

2. What should I look for in a lead trainer and training faculty?

The Mediation Training Standards developed by the Massachusetts Association of Mediation Programs and Practitioners provide sound recommendations for trainer qualifications: “The mediation trainer should have extensive experience as a mediator in order to be accepted as a credible teacher and role model. Thorough knowledge of the mediation process and a mediator’s techniques and strategic choices is also essential.” Added to this should be a comprehensive understanding of the ethical rules governing mediator conduct.

Find out what you can about the lead trainer, other members of the training faculty, and their professional backgrounds. What kind of work do they do in the mediation field? What types of cases do they mediate? How long have they been mediating? How long has this organization been providing training services? How many individuals have they trained?

Other essential qualifications to look for include whether the trainers

  • are active in the dispute resolution field through membership in professional associations, dispute resolution panels, and organizations committed to the advancement of dispute resolution
  • are committed to best practices and continuing education by regularly upgrading their skills and theoretical grounding on an ongoing basis through advanced training and attendance at conferences and other educational programs
  • have a demonstrated commitment to the dispute resolution community through public awareness initiatives and support of other dispute resolution professionals
  • through their connections in the dispute resolution community can help you identify and network with dispute resolution professionals and others who can provide mentoring, guidance, or information to help you get started in the mediation field

I cannot emphasize how important these characteristics and qualifications are. There do exist mediation trainings conducted by wholly unqualified trainers, so it is critical to find out all you can about the trainers. Definitely request to see bios or resumes for trainers as well.

3. How many hours of training should I receive?

The answer to that question depends upon what state you intend to practice in. Here in Massachusetts, state law specifies a minimum of 30 hours of training in order for mediators to be covered by the mediator confidentiality statute (Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 233, § 23C). In addition, the Supreme Judicial Court recently created Guidelines for Implementation of Qualifications Standards for Neutrals which set forth requirements for mediators in court-connected dispute resolution programs. These Guidelines specify a minimum of 30 hours of mediation training for mediators, with 36 to 40 hours recommended. The more hours of training that a mediation training provides participants, the more comprehensive and in-depth the training is likely to be.

To see what other states require, there is a draft report entitled State Mediator Rosters and Qualifications prepared by the Institute of Government, College of Professional Studies at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, which provides an overview of the requirements specified by the 50 states for mediators.

4. What should a training curriculum cover?

At a minimum, a basic mediation training curriculum will typically cover the following topics:

  • Overview of ADR processes
  • Principles of mediation
  • Stages and goals of mediation process
  • Role of mediator
  • Nature of conflict/behaviors in conflict
  • Mediation skills, including negotiation skills, interactive listening, question-asking, use of neutral language, reframing, interest identification, addressing barriers to agreement, agreement writing
  • Values and bias awareness
  • Cultural diversity
  • Power imbalance
  • Working with attorneys and representatives of parties
  • Ethical issues, including confidentiality, impartiality, informed consent, conflict of interest, fees, responsibilities to 3rd parties, advertising and soliciting, withdrawal by mediator

This material is typically taught utilizing a range of teaching methods, including lecture, large and small group discussion, interactive exercises, and coached role-playing. Trainings should provide at least three opportunities for a participant to play a mediator in coached role-playing under the supervision of an experienced mediator, who will provide feedback to support and facilitate learning.

5. What happens after a training? How can I gain mediation experience and mentoring?

Before you take a basic mediation training offered through an organization, find out what opportunities are available to obtain mediation experience after the training is over. Such opportunities are typically available on a volunteer basis, usually through small claims cases at local district courts. Beginning mediators are teamed up with more experienced mediators for coaching and support in developing skills. This can be an effective way to build the skills you acquired through training and to become acquainted with others in the field. There is generally no cost to the volunteer mediator for participating in such a program, but you should be prepared to ask whether there are any costs or membership fees associated with volunteering.

In addition, organizations may offer practica to individuals who have completed a mediation program. A practicum provides intensive supervision and coaching to newly trained mediators by experienced and highly qualified mentors. Its purpose is to increase a mediator’s effectiveness and support the acquisition, development and refinement of skills and techniques. Enrollment is usually limited, and organizations typically charge tuition for such programs.

6. What can I expect to pay for basic mediation training?

Cost can range from as little as $600 for training offered through an all-volunteer community mediation program to several thousand dollars. In the Greater Boston area, you can expect to pay in the $650 to $1800 range for basic mediation training.

A basic mediation training should be viewed as an investment in your professional development. Although there is no licensing or certification of mediators in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, mediators nonetheless consider themselves to be professionals. Professionals such as social workers, psychologists, attorneys, and others invest in getting the education they need to perform their jobs effectively, including post-secondary and advanced degrees and continuing education. Aspiring mediators should do likewise in selecting carefully the training that will prepare them to become effective professionals. Therefore, you should approach mediation training in the same way you would any other professional training by choosing a training program that will help you achieve your professional and personal goals. A quality mediation training may cost more, but it provides greater benefit in the long run.

7. Where can I get mediation training?

For those of you in the New England area, information on upcoming training programs may be found on the web site for the Association for Conflict Resolution, New England Chapter (NE-ACR), a non-profit association “dedicated to serving its members and the public by providing expertise and resources on the field of conflict resolution…[Its] members are mediators, arbitrators, facilitators and educators from different backgrounds and professions from across the six New England states.” NE-ACR’s goal is “to build the understanding and use of quality conflict resolution services.” Click on the link for “ADR Calendar” for a list of trainings offered around the New England area. However, be aware that NE-ACR cannot ensure the quality of the programs listed in its calendar–you still need to do your homework before making any commitment.

That’s one way to find trainings. You can also contact the leaders of professional associations for dispute resolution practitioners in your area and ask them for their recommendations. For those of you outside the New England area, the Association for Conflict Resolution is a good place to go to find local chapters in your area, as well as to locate professional mediators in your community. Find out from them what trainings they might recommend, and talk to a number of practitioners.

The important thing, however, is to do your homework. You’ll be glad you took the time.

[Important note: Since I published this post back in January 2005, I have revisited this issue. For further information on careers in mediation and choosing a mediation training, click here.]

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