Category Archives: Mediator Certification and Credentialing

Preparing mediators for practice: mediation training or mediation education?

mediation training raises many questionsRecently the alert I set up to monitor appearances of the keyword “mediation” in Twitter posts pointed me to the following message: “Just got back from Civil Mediation Training (30 hrs) to be a Qualified Neutral”. The message took me aback.

30 hours? To be a “qualified neutral”? Qualified? For what?

The persistence of the notion that 30 or 40 hours is sufficient time to train neutrals has long troubled me, a trainer of mediators. It is one advanced by court-connected mediation programs, some private training companies, and mediators themselves. It is even codified in law and court rule. But to be confronted in this way by someone’s certainty that 30 hours prepared them adequately to mediate civil disputes was jolting.

In the trainings I am involved with, we make it clear to participants that a basic mediation training provides an orientation to the field of mediation but that hard work and further learning lie ahead. The best students are those who come away with the humble understanding that they do indeed have a long way to go toward mastery. The ones who keep me awake at night are those who already have their business cards printed on the last day of the training.

My colleague to the north, Tammy Lenski, is clearly troubled, too. She writes:

Is there a qualitative difference between training mediators and educating mediators? I think so and I’m going to put myself far out on the limb here. No doubt one of you will want to shake me right off.

While training will likely always have its place in the ADR world, I’d like to see greater embrace of educating and less commitment to short-term, “let-me-call-myself-certified” training.

Training is traditionally concerned with the development of skills and preparation for specific jobs or roles.

Education is traditionally concerned with the development of the intellect, stretching and learning to use one’s mind.

Like Tammy, I have to wonder out loud whether it’s time for our field to look closely and critically at what it takes to prepare people to become effective mediators. I know that 30 hours or 40 won’t do it. But what kind, degree, and amount of training or education or practical experience under supervision – or some combination of those – will produce a competent mediator?

Mediate.com announces mediator certification program

Mediators must measure up for Mediate.com certification programAfter over a year of planning and development, Mediate.com, the world’s best known resource for information and news about alternative dispute resolution and negotiation, announced today that it has taken the wraps off a Mediator Certification Program for well trained and highly experienced mediators.

Mediate.com describes the program this way:

  • Mediate.com first ensures that our Certified Mediators are well trained and experienced.
  • We next insist upon complete information disclosure, including specific practice area case experience. This disclosure is accomplished through the Mediator’s Mediate.com Directory Listing, or a combination of the Mediator’s Directory Listing and their professional web site.
  • Finally, Mediate.com insists upon the highest ethical standards, disclosure of whether the mediator has liability insurance, and the mediator must have references available.

…Mediate.com requires that our Certified Mediators offer mediation as a voluntary process in which participants make all of the decisions. Our mediators are bound to ensure mediation confidentiality.

You can read about the values and principles behind the program or find answers to questions in the FAQs section.

Time for mediation certification in the U.S.? Not this way, thanks

caution proceed with careThe Association for Conflict Resolution‘s Family Section released the latest edition of its quarterly newsletter, Family Mediation News. A front page article insists in large typeface that “Certification of Mediators Needed Now More than Ever” (PDF).

Author Stephen K. Erickson, chair of ACR’s Taskforce on Mediator Certification, explains why he thinks so:

Certification of mediators is no longer an issue that should be debated. Certification is essential to the continued development of the mediation field and it must be accomplished in the near future for two important reasons: 1) Increasingly, adjudicative models of dispute resolution are being called “mediation” when, in fact, they are actually coercive and/or evaluative settlement conferencing techniques masquerading as mediation, and this confuses the public; and 2) ACR members who have toiled for years to provide the public with quality dispute resolution processes have difficulty marketing their products when the public is unable to distinguish between a qualified mediator and an unqualified person who decides to enter into the field with little or no training in mediation.

According to Erickson, before establishing certification one must first determine what constitutes “good mediation” (Erickson’s phrase, not mine).  When it comes to recognizing “good mediation”, however, Erickson seems to adhere to the Justice Potter Stewart school of “I know it when I see it“, or rather “I know it when I don’t see it”.  Erickson argues that since one of mediation’s central tenets is the principle of self-determination, mediation practices that fail to support self-determination do not constitute the competent practice of mediation. So, because they undermine self-determination, Erickson excludes from “good mediation” evaluative and directive approaches, such as mediation conducted by a “retired judge” or by a mediator not “from a behavioral science background” who relies heavily on caucusing (private meetings with parties individually, rather than joint meetings with all parties present).

I am personally uncomfortable with any labeling of mediation practices as either “good” or “bad”. This unnuanced view does not help us describe effective mediator process choices that produce for disputants successful and satisfying outcomes. Although at one time I argued in favor of formal credentialing or licensing, I no longer support it with the same fervor, since too many questions remain to be answered, and Erickson’s discussion of the issue of certification illustrates why I think we should all be concerned when anyone insists that certification is integral to the advancement of our field.

For one thing, who says that facilitative mediation is the best way to practice?  If self-determination matters as much as Erickson says it does, then what if parties prefer to work with an evaluative mediator? What if they really do want an evaluation at the end of a hard day of facilitative mediation to help them move beyond impasse?  What if they prefer to work in private meetings with the mediator, rather than directly with each other face-to-face? Why must we assume that one style of practice fits all?  In addition, who gets to decide what’s “good” or what’s “bad”? Surely not the mediator. If self-determination matters, shouldn’t we be listening to the users of mediation services tell us what works for them and what approach best fits their needs, rather than paternalistically insisting that we know what’s best for them?  Others, respected scholars, have pointed out that evaluation can in fact “bolster party self-determination … by leading to better-informed decision-making”.

Moreover, given how dysfunctional ACR has been for several years now as an organization and unresponsive to the concerns of members, why should I place confidence in its ability to steer a clear course for the ADR profession on the important question of certification, particularly since it has already dropped the ball once on this issue?

I agree with Erickson that self-determination is key, but not in the way he imagines it; I say let disputants determine for themselves what kind of mediator and what kind of process they need.

In fact, I would argue that another mediation principle is equally relevant: informed consent. Rather than excluding evaluative mediation from the list of “good” practices, perhaps it’s time instead to urge all who call themselves mediators to provide disputants with sufficient information about the approach they utilize — facilitative, transformative, evaluative, narrative, or a hybrid of approaches, who cares — so that the disputants themselves can make informed choices when it comes to selecting the best mediator for the job.

In the renewed call for certification, it strikes me as premature and unwise to exile members of our own community. New direction depends upon fresh thinking, not on orthodoxy. A facilitative mediator myself, I like to think that mediation remains a large enough tent that many styles remain welcome.

International Mediation Institute seeks comments on global mediator competency certification system

The International Mediation Institute (IMI) has convened an Independent Standards Commission to determine the standards, criteria and guidelines which together will make up the IMI global mediator competency certification system.

IMI has posted for international comment first drafts of the standards which can be reviewed and downloaded from the IMI web site. These drafts combine into a competency system that IMI hopes will work internationally. IMI highly values the input of professionals in the field and has established a comment period of 6 weeks to 2 months. The Commission will then convene to review the details in the light of comments received.

If you wish to provide the IMI with your input, please visit IMI online.

Mediation's identity crisis: it's time to regulate the profession

Mediation having an identity crisisMediation has been struggling with an identity crisis for years now. It’s been confused with meditation. It’s often mistaken for arbitration. And more recently an Illinois governor characterized a state-funded gang mediation program as “pork” to be trimmed from an overbloated budget. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

In the grand scheme of things, these are harmless errors that should prod professional mediators to do a better job at marketing and packaging their services and educating the public about mediation’s advantages. Of far greater concern though to the field is the questionable use by a debt collection agency of the words “legal mediation” as part of the name of its business, reported today by Chris Annunziata at CKA Mediation & Arbitration Blog.

Chris observes, “As a libertarian, I am loathe to advocate governmental intervention, but shouldn’t the bar in these states regulate the use of the term ‘legal’ and ‘mediation’?”

While I agree with Chris that state bars should monitor the use of the word “legal” by businesses to describe their services, I am not sure that it’s any business of the bar to regulate the use of the word “mediation” — not when so many professional mediators are not attorneys and there is no requirement that mediators in private practice must also be members of the bar. Moreover, while it is true that a very few state courts do certify certain classes of mediators in court-connected programs, no U.S. state currently possesses the power to license mediators or to regulate the private practice of mediation.

This instance illustrates how urgent the need is for the mediation field here in the U.S. to move now to develop a formal system to qualify mediators and regulate the profession. The future of the field depends upon it; public confidence demands it. We can no longer argue that regulation will thwart innovation in a still developing field, that it is unnecessary or will be too costly, that it will discourage otherwise qualified individuals from entering the field, or that mediation itself resists definition.

We should act now, before others define mediation for us. It is, at last, time.

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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ACR AND ABA CONDUCT ELECTRONIC SURVEY ON PROPOSED MEDIATOR CERTIFICATION PROGRAM

The Association for Conflict Resolution (ACR) and the American Bar Association (ABA) Section of Dispute Resolution are conducting an electronic survey regarding a proposed national certification program for mediators. ACR sent out an email regarding this survey to its members, the full text of which is reproduced below. Please feel free to pass this along.

The Association for Conflict Resolution (ACR) and the American Bar Association (ABA) Section of Dispute Resolution are exploring the feasibility of a proposed new national certification program for mediators. Certification is the voluntary process by which a nongovernmental organization grants recognition to an individual who has demonstrated certain knowledge, skills and abilities. Certification would not be tied to the completion of a specific course of education or training. We would now like to solicit the views of members, friends, and colleagues to help guide our thinking. We have created a short electronic survey to gather information on the issues we face in creating a certification program. Completing the survey will take no more than 10 minutes of your time. All individual responses will be kept confidential and the results will be aggregated electronically and made available to those taking the survey. In addition to completing the survey, please pass this invitation on to others who you feel would be interested in providing input into a national certification program for mediators. Also feel free to post

this invitation on your webpage.

If you have any questions about the survey, please contact Mark Wilson from the Association for Conflict Resolution at mwilson@ACRnet.org, or Daniel Taggart from the ABA’s Section of Dispute Resolution Section at taggartd@staff.abanet.org.

To participate in the survey, please go to: http://www.zoomerang.com/survey.zgi?p=WEB2243RLWV8U9

Please complete the survey by February 14, 2005

Thank you,

David A. Hart, ACR Chief Executive Officer

Ellen M. Miller, Director of the ABA Section of Dispute Resolution

Association for Conflict Resolution