Certification of Mediators

Diane Levin

Bravo to Diane Levin for re-opening a conversation about the important issue of mediator certification.  I’ve always thought that there’s a direct relationship between professional standards and professional accountability — you can’t have one without the other.  So for me it’s been pretty clear that certification would be a good thing.  The problem isn’t whether or not to provide for professional accreditation, but rather how to do that.

What’s at stake in considering the how is whether to have a set of exclusionary certification standards that privilege one model of mediation over others or to have standards that are sufficiently broad so as to be inclusive of all mediation praxis, whether it be evaluative, facilitative, transformative, narrative, or insight.

This is exactly where the call for certification of mediators in the current newsletter of the family section of the Association for Conflict Resolution falls off the rails.  Under the heading, “Certification of Mediators Needed Now More Than Ever”,  it’s argued that this must be accomplished 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.

This just begs the question of the definition of mediation and in doing so favours one model of practice while it excludes others.  The argument comes down to this:

  1. certification is needed so that the public can be clear about who is and who is not a competent mediator; and
  2. certification is needed so that ACR members can better market their services.

With respect, this is an argument that is really coloured by professional self-interest rather than public service.  It’s a mediator-driven argument nor a client-centred approach.  An argument that relied on the latter would appeal instead to the need to give clients a means of recourse when not satisfied with a mediator or a process that would examine practice against agreed and transparent objective standards.

For her part, Diane makes a very strong argument about self-determination with which I entirely concur:

[. . .]  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?

Read her whole post here.

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One thought on “Certification of Mediators

  1. Diane Levin

    Arnold, thanks kindly for amplifying my original post and riffing on it. You did a far better job of it than I did in neatly putting your finger on the problem with Erickson’s argument for certification – as you said, “It’s a mediator-driven argument not a client-centred approach.”

    Perhaps we need an ADR equivalent of Dan Hull’s blog, “What About Clients?” to remind us all that it’s the client who stands at the heart of our work — not our own professional self-interest. Not that there’s anything wrong with making a living – but please let’s not do it at the expense of those we should care about most.

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