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Mediation and Psychotherapy - Distinguishing the Differences

NCJ Number
Mediation Quarterly Issue: 1 Dated: (September 1983) Pages: 33-44
J B Kelly
Date Published
12 pages
The role of the therapist is to encourage exploration of the meanings and levels of dysfunctional psychological reactions, while the role of the mediator in a dispute is to manage and contain emotional expression so that the process of reaching a settlement can proceed.
While the effect of successful mediation can be highly therapeutic for clients, the primary goal of divorce mediation is not psychological change but negotiated settlement of the dispute. Mediation is a highly focused problemsolving process that provides a setting in which emotional catharsis can occur. In mediation, diagnostic activity is limited to the purposes of mediation, specifically in formulating strategy. Generally, mediators concern themselves with three areas of diagnostic thinking: each client's reaction to the divorce, the power relationship between the two clients, and the respective present and future needs of both clients and other family members. The mediator's techniques and interventions consist of conflict management, future orientation, reality testing, and negotiation strategies. In therapy, conflict itself is explored in depth for its meaning, but in mediation, too much conflict can obstruct progress toward a settlement between the parties. Mediators must learn to manage conflict so as to move toward its resolution in an agreement between the parties. Regarding future orientation, mediators focus not on what happened in the past, as does psychotherapy, but on what clients seek to negotiate for their current and future needs. With respect to reality testing, the need for the mediator to provide a reality check is much more pressing than for the therapist, since the mediator's clients must prepare budgets, contemplate transfers of payments, or undertake other practical matters. Whereas therapists rarely have training in bargaining skills, mediators must be skilled in using negotiation techniques.


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