Becoming a Mediator

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As a trainer, particularly of family and divorce mediators, I often receive calls from people who want to become a mediator. What does it take to become a mediator, they ask? That depends... While I would like to give folks a straightforward answer, there is no one path to becoming a mediator. Besides the many careers where mediation is a helpful skill (i.e. personnel, management, college administration), there are many forms of mediation

(i.e. community, divorce, elder, workplace). Depending upon the state or country you live in, there may be particular requirements if you wish to mediate cases referred by the courts or even in private settings. In the United States there are no licensure requirements for mediators, so in most instances, someone can simply call themselves a mediator and begin practicing. It doesnʼt take much to imagine why this is a cause of concern for those within the field. This is why organizations which provide and serve mediators have developed standards of their own.

For example, most community mediation programs which are often affiliated with the courts require a series of steps to become “certified.” This often involves a basic 30-hour mediation training, sometimes additional training in a specific topic area (i.e. parenting), observation of mediation, co-mediation, and mediating while being observed, followed by continuing education and ongoing mediation requirements. Those who are certified are usually volunteer mediators and the certification only applies when mediating cases within the program. In other words, one cannot or, at least should not, hold him or herself out as a “certified” mediator in private practice.

Family and Divorce Mediators can aspire to become an Advanced Practitioner member of the Family Section of the Association for Conflict Resolution and in New York State can become Accredited by the New York State Council on Divorce Mediation. Both have specific requirements for mediators which should be looked into early in oneʼs career to ensure you are on track to meet the standard. In general, both require that a mediator has completed initial training of 40 hours or more and continuing education of at least 10 hours per year in specific topic areas, having mediated at least 25 cases and 250 hours of face-to-face mediation over at least two years, having case consultation with senior mediators, and having Memorandum of Understanding blind peer reviewed.

This list is not exhaustive. There are other designations which can be reached through other organizations. Also, many organizations are currently discussing the topic of national or statewide certification programs. These programs, conceivably, would not be an internal standard but one which tests mediator competence in a statistically valid way. While many are in support of such a standard, others fear taking a Western systematic approach to mediation may marginalize those who are unable or unwilling to participate such as those without formal education, those from various cultural backgrounds, or those who are “natural” mediators. Some welcome and others abhor the idea of the “Unauthorized Practice of Mediation.”

I think a great first step in deciding if being a mediator is right for you is to think about why you want to mediate. Do you think it sound like a good fit with your natural abilities? What kind of mediation appeals to you and why? Do you believe there is a market for mediation in your area? Have you identified a job or position that requires these skills? Once you identify why you want to mediate, you might spend some time interviewing people who are currently doing what you want to do. How did they get there? What did it take? Do they believe there is opportunity for more mediators in the field? If your intention is to begin your own practice, you might also spend some time developing an initial business plan. How much time and capital are really required to launch and sustain the venture? If you need help in this regard, many local Chambers of Commerce have volunteers who offer assistance.

Once you have done your homework, you should have a better idea of the amount of training which will be required. Perhaps you are going to add this skill set to an existing career such as human resources and you simply need some background which could be completed in a brief training and further reading and research on your own. Maybe you want to become a divorce mediator and need a specialized course or training and involvement in professional organizations, including attendance at conferences and mentoring. It could be that you want to work in an academic setting and require a degree or graduate certificate in the discipline in order to be taken seriously in the workplace you envision.

Whatever you decide, mediation skills are helpful in any area of your life, so I would encourage you to at least consider learning more. Empowering people to make their own choices and assisting them in doing so is not only rewarding, it is enriching for everyone who participates in the process. Feel free to sign up for information on upcoming classes. I hope to meet you in class sometime!