An Intern's Perspective: How Mediation Heals

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I have just completed my second full week as an intern at Mediation Services.  This week I had two opportunities to explore participants’ feedback about their mediation experience.   After each mediation, participants can fill out an evaluation survey about their session.  This survey asks about the mediator, the success of the mediation, and overall feelings about the experience. The survey also offers an open-ended section where participants can share what they liked most, what they liked least, and suggestions for improvement.  I compiled all the responses from 2014 into a document to be shared with the Board of Directors at the upcoming annual meeting.
An overwhelming majority of participants were very pleased with their mediation experience. Additionally, I conducted a series of compliance checks. Approximately 60 days after mediation, the State Court Administrators office requires Mediation Services to contact parties to ask if the agreement made in mediation has been upheld.  According to participants, the opportunity to speak freely about the dispute as well as the helpfulness of the mediator contributed to the success of the mediation.  Not every mediation session is able to come to an agreement, but it does create a forum to start repairing and resolving.
A study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology sought to examine the effects of forgiveness, retributive justice, and restorative justice on participants’ emotional and physiological responses (Witvliet et al., 2005).    In this study, restorative justice was defined as a situation where the victim receives some form of “compensation or conciliatory behaviors such as expressions of remorse by the offender” (Witvliet et al., 2005).  This decreases the frustration the victim feels due to the discrepancy between the desired and actual levels of justice, referred to as the injustice gap.  Researchers found that restorative justice was more effective than retributive justice and no justice at decreasing ager and unforgiving motivations.  Restorative justice was also more effective at promoting positive responses and gratitude toward the offender, as well as increasing perceived control (Witvliet et al., 2005). 
In other words, restorative justice promoted positive feelings and decreased negative emotions and physiological responses.
Mediation seeks to foster this form of justice.  There is much less emphasis on punishment and much more emphasis on restoration for all parties.  In most disputes that come to mediation, there is no clear offender and no clear victim.  All parties have some aspects of both roles in many circumstances, but the need for justice is still just as important.
Witvliet, C., Worthington, E., Root, L., Sato, A., Ludwig, T., & Exline, J. (2005). Retributive Justice, Restorative Justice, And Forgiveness: An Experimental Psychophysiology Analysis. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 10-25. Retrieved February 1, 2015, from

Charlyn Pelter