How to Select a Mediation Training Program
The mediation of disputes is rapidly developing as a viable settlement option. In the public sector many state courts and legislatures have passed rules and laws encouraging and providing for mediation services. In the private sector more practitioners are seeking to develop mediation practices. Therefore, choosing an effective mediation training program is important. A mediation training course is helpful in delineating the role of the mediator from other professional roles (law, mental health, business) and can offer practical advice and forms for practice and clarify potential ethical and professional problem areas. The questions below are intended to provide a guide to the factors to consider in selecting a course.
- Inquire about the trainer's qualifications and experience. Does he or she regularly practice mediation? In what areas (family/divorce, civil/commercial, health care, environmental, employment, organizational disputes)? How long has the trainer been in practice? What is his or her professional background? Is he or she an active member of a professional mediation organization (e.g., Society of Professionals in Dispute Resolution, Academy of Family Mediators)? How long has the trainer been presenting training courses and can he or she offer references?
- What is the training design of the course and the trainer's approach? Is the material integrated or will there be separate presenters for each topic (e.g., communications, and conflict management, negotiation and "power balance," legal issues, ethics, etc.) Is the purpose of the course to merely introduce participants to concepts or to obtain the ability to begin mediating? What are the course requirements with regard to attendance and participation? Consider how your learning style matches the trainer's presentation style. Some courses are very basic, others are more intense and practice-oriented.
- Is the course "qualified" for CEU and CLE credit and/or meet court or state guidelines, if they exist? Who has reviewed the course? The Academy of Family Mediators reviews mediation training courses. Many states or local court jurisdictions also review course content. Note, however, that those reviews do not relate to the quality or competency of the course or the trainer. No state presently licenses mediators; some states "certify" mediators to be on court lists for referrals.
- What is the trainer's style of mediation? There are many variables - what is the context of the mediation (business or family/divorce mediation)? What is the personal and professional background of the trainer (law, mental health or business)? Does the trainer tend to prefer co-mediation models, caucus style (meeting separately with the parties) mediation, facilitative mediation or evaluative "med-arb" mediation? Will the course present various styles of mediation?
- Is the course sufficiently practice oriented ... a good "nuts and bolts" course? What specific skills, strategies and techniques will be learned? Are practice forms, materials and resources provided? Will marketing and the economics of practice be covered?
- Is sufficient attention given to the underlying theories of mediation practice - the "mind-set" of a mediator? How does the role of the mediator differ from that of other traditional professional disciplines? Just knowing skills and techniques are necessary but not sufficient without a solid understanding of the theories underlying effective mediation.
- Does the course address ethical issues and the duties and responsibilities of the mediator? Mediators have different professional duties and may have other ethical requirements from other professionals that need to be considered. A mediator cannot take sides as an advocate for any party and yet has a duty to protect all parties to assure that the decisions are informed and consensual.
- Is the course taught generically or is it geared to a specific substantive context? In other words, is the training focused solely on mediating a particular kind of case or can the learning be generally applied in other contexts and kinds of cases as well?
- What does the course cost and what additional fees may be charged? Courses can vary widely in cost, the value of the course may not necessarily correlate with the cost of the course. Course costs generally include the basic materials, but there may be additional costs for other materials such as video tapes, materials on disk for word processing or reading.
- Who will do the training? Speak to one of the intended actual trainers. Is he or she able to clearly answer your questions? Don't hesitate to ask direct or even pointed questions about any concerns you may have and assess the responsiveness of the answer. How the trainer accommodates your concerns is a good indicator of his or her effectiveness as a presenter.