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What To Look For In A Basic Mediation Training

As a practicing mediator, I frequently get phone calls from people who are interested in becoming mediators themselves. These people are motivated by a desire to help others, to transition into a more satisfying career, or to learn skills to help them do their current jobs more effectively. They come to me for help in finding a place where they can get training to help them achieve their goals.

What I typically discover is that the vast majority of these individuals do not know what questions they should be asking to help them choose the best training possible. They have no idea what they should be looking for in a training program. And that’s a big problem. While there are excellent programs providing mediation training, there are also some training programs that are woefully inadequate.

My purpose in writing this article is to raise public awareness of the importance of doing your homework when it comes to making decisions regarding choosing a mediation training. Taking a mediation training constitutes an investment in your professional development, representing an important commitment of both time and money. The last thing you want is to waste either one of those precious commodities.

If you are interested in undergoing training to become a mediator, be an educated consumer and research trainers and training programs carefully before making a commitment. The following questions were developed to assist you in gathering the information you will need to make an informed decision regarding the selection of an appropriate mediation training program.

1. What preliminary questions should I ask?

At present, there is no uniform regulatory scheme governing the practice of mediation, and, unlike other professions, such as law or medicine, there is no formal licensing or credentialing of mediators. States and governmental bodies such as courts set forth different requirements for mediators and mediation practice, so you should find out what requirements or qualifications standards for mediators are specified by the state you plan to practice in. (See Section 3, below, for information on Massachusetts.) A lead trainer or director of a training program should be familiar with these requirements.

Second, even within the field there are differing perspectives on how mediation itself should be defined and what constitutes the practice of mediation. You should be aware that there are different models and approaches—facilitative, transformative and evaluative—in mediation practice which define the mediator’s role in different ways. The facilitative is probably the best-known and most commonly taught. Be sure to find out what philosophy the training program utilizes and what core beliefs and values the program will teach participants.

Third, find out from the lead trainer what kinds of skills and techniques they believe are integral to effective mediation practice. Ask what the training will prepare students for upon its conclusion. Ask whether the program utilizes solo or co-mediation and why.

Fourth, in addition to inquiring about the program’s philosophy, it is also important to ask about the design of the mediation training program. How will skills and concepts be taught? What information will students receive on ethical guidelines and issues? What is the student to teacher ratio? How is time allocated among presentation, group discussion, and application, including role-playing? What kinds of materials, including a manual, will be provided to students? What is the bibliography for this program?

2. What should I look for in a lead trainer and training faculty?

The Mediation Training Standards developed by the Massachusetts Association of Mediation Programs and Practitioners provide sound recommendations for trainer qualifications: “The mediation trainer should have extensive experience as a mediator in order to be accepted as a credible teacher and role model. Thorough knowledge of the mediation process and a mediator’s techniques and strategic choices is also essential.” Added to this should be a comprehensive understanding of the ethical rules governing mediator conduct.

Find out what you can about the lead trainer, other members of the training faculty, and their professional backgrounds. What kind of work do they do in the mediation field? What types of cases do they mediate? How long have they been mediating? What kind of advanced training have they had? How long has the organization offering training been providing mediation and training services? How many individuals have they trained?

Other essential qualifications to look for include whether the trainers:

  • are active in the dispute resolution field through membership in professional associations, dispute resolution panels, and organizations committed to the advancement of dispute resolution
  • are committed to best practices and continuing education by regularly upgrading their skills and theoretical grounding on an ongoing basis through advanced training and attendance at conferences and other educational programs
  • have a demonstrated commitment to the dispute resolution community through public awareness initiatives and support of other dispute resolution professionals
  • through their connections in the dispute resolution community can help you identify and network with dispute resolution professionals and others who can provide mentoring, guidance, or information to help you get started in the mediation field

I cannot emphasize how important these characteristics and qualifications are. Although the majority of organizations that provide mediation training are legitimate and are staffed by qualified trainers, there do exist mediation trainings that fall far short of accepted standards, so it is critical to find out all you can about the program and the trainers. Definitely request to see bios or resumes for trainers as well.

3. How many hours of training do I need?

The answer to that question depends upon what state you intend to practice in. Here in Massachusetts where I practice, state law specifies a minimum of 30 hours of training in order for mediators to be covered by the mediator confidentiality statute (Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 233, § 23C). In addition, the Supreme Judicial Court recently created Guidelines for Implementation of Qualifications Standards for Neutrals which set forth requirements for mediators in court-connected dispute resolution programs. These Guidelines specify a minimum of 30 hours of mediation training for mediators, with 36 to 40 hours recommended. The more hours of training that a mediation training provides participants, the more comprehensive and in-depth the training is likely to be.

To see what other states require, there is a draft report entitled State Mediator Rosters and Qualifications prepared by the Institute of Government, College of Professional Studies at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, which provides an overview of the requirements specified by the fifty states for mediators.

4. What should a training curriculum cover?

At a minimum, a basic mediation training curriculum will typically cover the following topics:

  • Overview of ADR processes
  • Principles of mediation
  • Stages and goals of mediation process
  • The role of the mediator
  • Nature of conflict/behaviors in conflict
  • Mediation skills, including negotiation skills, interactive listening, question-asking, use of neutral language, reframing, interest identification, addressing barriers to agreement, agreement writing
  • Values and bias awareness
  • Cultural diversity
  • Power imbalance
  • Working with attorneys and representatives of parties
  • Ethical issues, including confidentiality, impartiality, informed consent, conflict of interest, fees, responsibilities to 3rd parties, advertising and soliciting, withdrawal by mediator

This material is typically taught utilizing a range of teaching methods, including lecture, large and small group discussion, interactive exercises, and coached role-playing. Trainings should provide at least three opportunities for a participant to play a mediator in coached role-playing under the supervision of an experienced mediator, who will provide feedback to support and facilitate learning.

5. What happens after the training is over? How can I get experience and mentoring?

Before you take a basic mediation training offered through an organization, find out what opportunities are available to obtain mediation experience after the training is over. Such opportunities are available on a volunteer basis, typically in small claims cases at local district courts. Beginning mediators are teamed up with more experienced mediators for coaching and support in developing skills. This can be an effective way to build the skills you acquired through training and to become acquainted with others in the field. There is generally no cost to the volunteer mediator for participating in such a program, but you should be prepared to ask whether there are any costs or membership fees associated with volunteering.

In addition, organizations may offer a practicum to individuals who have completed a mediation program. A practicum provides intensive supervision and coaching to newly trained mediators by experienced and highly qualified mentors. Its purpose is to increase a mediator’s effectiveness and support the acquisition, development and refinement of skills and techniques. Enrollment is usually limited, and organizations typically charge tuition for such programs.

6. What can I expect to pay for basic mediation training?

Cost can range from as little as $600 for training offered through an all-volunteer community mediation program to several thousand dollars. In the Greater Boston area, for example, you can expect to pay in the $650 to $1800 range for basic mediation training.

A basic mediation training should be viewed as an investment in your professional development. And professionals such as social workers, psychologists, attorneys, and others invest in getting the education they need to perform their jobs effectively, including post-secondary and advanced degrees and continuing education. Aspiring mediators should do likewise in selecting carefully the training that will prepare them to become effective professionals.

Therefore, you should approach mediation training in the same way you would any other professional training by choosing a training program that will help you achieve your professional and personal goals. A quality mediation training may cost more, but it provides greater benefit in the long run.

7. Where can I get mediation training?

For those of you in the New England area, information on upcoming training programs may be found on the web site for the Association for Conflict Resolution, New England Chapter (NE-ACR), a non-profit association “dedicated to serving its members and the public by providing expertise and resources on the field of conflict resolution…[Its] members are mediators, arbitrators, facilitators and educators from different backgrounds and professions from across the six New England states.” NE-ACR’s goal is “to build the understanding and use of quality conflict resolution services.” Click on the link for “Regional ADR Calendar” under the heading “Calendar and Events” for a list of trainings offered around the New England area. However, be aware that NE-ACR cannot ensure the quality of the programs listed in its calendar—you still need to do your homework before making any commitment.

That’s one way to find trainings. You can also contact the leaders of professional associations for dispute resolution practitioners in your area and ask them for their recommendations. The Association for Conflict Resolution is a good place to find local chapters in your area, as well as to locate professional mediators in your community. Find out from them what trainings they might recommend, and talk to a number of practitioners.

The important thing, however, is to be an educated consumer and do your homework. You’ll be glad you took the time. A top-notch mediation training can be a powerful springboard to a successful career in the mediation field.


Diane J. Levin

Diane Levin, J.D., is a mediator, dispute resolution trainer, negotiation coach, writer, and lawyer based in Marblehead, Massachusetts, who has instructed people from around the world in the art of talking it out. Since 1995 she has helped clients resolve disputes involving tort, employment, business, estate, family, and real property… MORE >

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