An Intern's Perspective: Contrasting Mediation and Family Therapy

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This week I spent a majority of my time this week on clerical matters in order to prepare for the upcoming annual board meeting.  I have compiled data for the annual report, such as mediator training information and participant evaluations, as well as reorganized files to make room for this year’s cases.  As a result, I looked up more information about mediation.  I am especially curious, as a psych major, what professionals in the psychology field think about mediation as an alternative to litigation, especially in domestic matters such as divorce and custody.
There appears to be a logical connection between mediation and family therapy.  Both the dynamics of the sessions and the emotional state of the participants is similar in therapy and mediation.  The mediator and the therapist have similar roles in directing the conversation and facilitating healing.  Some mediators may also be therapists in other settings.
There are also distinct differences, especially regarding the purpose of the sessions and the input of the professional.  Therapists have a much more active role than mediators in helping clients come to decisions.  Therapy focuses on the roots of the issues and the history of the relationship, but mediation is limited to details that are relevant to the case. It is incredibly important for mediators to split attention between parties equally, as opposed to therapy, where it may be necessary to spend more time on one client (Katz 2007).
Therapy and mediation do share a goal of returning control to the client(s). In both situations, the parties are overcoming a difficulty with the guidance of the professional.  The driving force behind mediation is the parties have the ability to create the best agreement for their dispute.  They have the power to come to an agreement on their own; the mediator only facilitates a healthy dialogue.  In therapy, the clinician works with the family to diminish feelings of helplessness and restore autonomy in the family (Katz 2007). There is also a shared desire to promote problem solving and healing rather than vengeance.  Katz (2007) suggests that family therapists should be knowledgeable about mediation and the benefits that it has for their clients.  Since the therapist is often privy to the couple’s decision to divorce, the therapist has an opportunity to help the clients start the process with as much communication and collaboration as possible.
Katz, E. (2007). A family therapy perspective on mediation. Family Process, 46(1), 93-107

Charlyn Pelter