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You Say You’re A Certified Mediator. Says Who?

Diane Levin recently blogged about five mediation career myths worth debunking. It’s a terrific post and her list is on-target:

1. Twenty-four (or 30 or 40) hours of training is all you need to become a mediator.

2. Lawyers are already qualified to mediate by virtue of their profession and need little if any mediation training.

3. Lawyers always make the best mediators (or, alternatively, only lawyers can be mediators).

4. Online training in mediation is a great way to get certified as a mediator.

5. I can make big money as a mediator – right after I finish my 30-hour training.

Good, good list. So I think it deserves one more:

6. I’m a certified mediator.

You are, are you? Are you sure? Says who?

Here’s the speech I deliver at the end of the occasional Basic Mediation course I teach: “Ok, so you’re all about to complete this course. You’re about to receive a certificate, a pretty little thing, that proves you put in your time. The certificate does not mean you’re certified. It means you’re certificated. Let me repeat: It does not mean you’re certified. This is not a certifying agency or body. And if I find you’re out there telling people you’re a certified mediator after taking this workshop, I will track you down with bloodhounds.”

There’s a huge difference between putting in the seat time and getting a certificate of completion and being a truly certified mediator, still a bit of a rare animal in the U.S. Though if you open your local yellow pages, you’d be tempted to conclude otherwise.

Certified vs. certificated

Certification in the U.S. is a slippery little sucker. There are some certifying programs, but not nearly as many as there are mediation trainers claiming to certify you. Or who conveniently look the other way when you misunderstand and start calling yourself a certified mediator without legitimate certification.

Who certifies? Depends on where you are and how fast and loose you are with the definition. Me, I’m a stickler on this stuff because I don’t think it’s ok to put one over on an ill-informed public. They see “certified” and they make some assumptions that are less accurate than they ever dream in far too many circumstances for my comfort. And as long as we’re a fast and loose profession on this, we’ll continue to have a hard time building legitimate credibility as a profession.

Beware of false prophets

So, who’s a legitimate certifier? In my mind these kinds of places belong on the list:

  • Court programs, though I’ll echo Diane here and say that 30-40 hours is pretty bare bones for anyone, even if you think you’ve got natural talent or a prior degree that tells you all you need to know.
  • Programs created by statute and regulated by an oversight board, such as the Marital Mediation Certification Board in my state of NH.
  • State, regional or national associations, such as ACR. They don’t do it, but I sure wish they’d pick the issue back up. In the absence of leadership, others who shouldn’t be are filling the vacuum.
  • Programs like’s and IMI’s, because I think these groups are trying to be very thoughtful about how to fill the gap left by our professional associations.

What about everyone else? If they’re not on the above list, do I think they’re taking advantage of new professionals desperate to create a modicum of credibility? No…and yes.

No, because I don’t pretend to have enough knowledge of all those out there who offer “certification,” nor of how thoughtful, thorough and right-minded they’ve been about it.

Yes, because I’m always troubled by self-proclaimed prophets. And certifiers.

There are so many training programs out there, some superb, some far less so, and a lot of these claim certification as part of their marketing. And it begs this question: Who says someone should be able to “certify” other mediators simply because they decide to do so? Because there’s a market willing to fork over the bucks for the title, not knowing any better?

It remains as true as the first time it was ever uttered: Caveat emptor.


Tammy Lenski

Dr. Tammy Lenski helps individuals, pairs, teams, and audiences navigate disagreement better, address friction, and build alignment. Her current work centers on creating the conditions for robust collaboration and sound decisions while fostering resilient personal and professional relationships. Her conflict resolution podcast and blog, Disagree Better, are available at… MORE >

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