The ISCT offers the most meaningful mediator certification there is. The following article was written by Jim Antes, who helped develop the assessment process and who wrote Chapter 4 in Transformative Mediation: A Sourcebook “Assessing Transformative Practice: Methods and Approaches”. Here he explains how the process, in addition to ensuring that only highly skilled mediators are certified, enhances the mediator's skills.
The Certification Process as a Learning Opportunity
The mediation had been underway for about 25 minutes and was marked by accusations and expressions of anger. Then Fred, the employee, looked up from the table directly at John, the supervisor, and asked, “Why did you change my shift without talking to me first about it?” You’re the mediator. What do you do/say at this point that is compatible with the transformative orientation?
Okay, I’ll admit that I haven’t given you enough context to enable you to provide an answer. But haven’t you, in your mediation practice, encountered numerous situations in which you’ve asked yourself, “What’s the best response at this moment?” Or, perhaps, in reflecting on the mediation after the session, “What could I have done differently at that point?” I believe that we all, as reflective and conscientious practitioners, have asked those questions countless times.
Many mediators are fortunate enough to have colleagues with whom they can hold case conferences and talk through the issues raised by these questions. Other mediators meet occasionally for practice role-play sessions, during which they can immediately discuss with the role-play parties the practice issues raised during the mediation. These types of experiences can be of immense help for mediators to grow in their understanding and practice of transformative mediation.
I’d like to suggest an additional option: the transformative mediator certification process. In undergoing this process, mediators submit a tape/dvd of an actual or role-play mediation. They also submit two brief essays related to the mediation: one discussing an event in the mediation in which the mediator’s intervention was compatible with the transformative orientation, and one discussing an event in which the intervention was not compatible. The materials are reviewed by an assessor who is a Certified Transformative MediatorTM (currently there are four Institute Fellows who conduct these assessments: Winnie Backlund, Baruch Bush, Judy Saul, and me (Jim Antes)).
The assessor evaluates the mediator’s practice as shown in the video according to five fundamental “strategies”: (1) Supporting the parties’ view of mediation as a constructive conversation; (2) Supporting the parties’ sense of their own agency; (3) Supporting the parties’ orientation to each other; (4) Supporting the parties’ “conflict talk”; and (5) Supporting the parties’ decision-making process. The assessor also conducts an interview with the mediator (usually by phone or Skype), discussing several of the events occurring in the mediation. The assessor makes a decision as to whether the mediator achieved certification and provides specific written feedback to the mediator, including suggestions for areas to work on.
Going through this process is certain to enhance your understanding of the theory and the practice of transformative mediation. Several aspects of the process are particularly suited to support your learning.
First, watching yourself on tape/dvd can help you witness aspects of your practice like no verbal feedback can. Few of us actually like to watch ourselves on the screen, but there is no doubt that you can learn much about how your behaviors, particularly your nonverbal behaviors, influence the parties’ interaction. And, of course, the advantage of the recording is that you can replay sequences again and again.
Second, you have a seasoned expert giving you feedback. You both are looking at the same sequences in the video and you can discuss in depth your interventions, their compatibility with the transformative model, and possible alternative interventions. In addition the written feedback you receive can provide a roadmap for your ongoing development.
Third, the act of preparing the self-assessment essays and planning for the interview with the assessor encourages depth of reflection on your mediation practice that you might not otherwise attain. Knowing that an expert will be reading your essays and viewing your mediation video can admittedly cause some anxiety but will also provide increased motivation to be as thorough and honest as possible in evaluating your mediating.
Fourth, the assessment process requires you to integrate transformative theory and transformative practice. It is not only common sense, but backed by research, that people learn best how to perform skilled acts by actually engaging in those acts, not simply by reading about them. In the course of the assessment process, especially the self-reflection essays and the interview with the assessor, mediators are asked to describe the links between transformative theory and their moment-by-moment interventions. Understanding this linkage is crucial to becoming a competent transformative mediator because what we say and do as mediators is so fundamentally connected to the premises and principles of transformative theory.
Certainly one of the benefits of undergoing the certification process is the prospect, at its conclusion, that you will become a Certified Transformative MediatorTM. But even if the assessor believes that you are not yet ready for that designation, you will have the written feedback to help you develop your skills. This will enable you to work on your mediating and later submit another mediation video for consideration, for no additional fee.
If you want to learn more about the assessment process, click the “certification” tab on the ISCT web page. I especially draw your attention to the link you’ll find there to the Assessor’s Guide”, which identifies the supportive and non-supportive mediator “moves” that the assessor looks for. Even if you choose not to submit a video for the certification process, this guide can be a helpful learning tool.
Please feel free to post comments. I especially encourage readers who have gone through the certification process to describe their experiences. Also, please suggest other learning experiences that have been helpful to you.
James Antes is Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Peace Studies at the University of North Dakota and former director of the UND Conflict Resolution Center. He has extensive experience in the field of conflict resolution as a mediator, workshop leader, and consultant, and has numerous publications and presentations at professional conferences on various aspects of conflict resolution. He was a member of the national training team that trained mediators and US Postal Service employees in the transformative mediation framework. He is a Fellow of the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation and serves as secretary of its Board of Directors. He and his wife moved to Colorado in 2009 and he teaches online classes for UND from his home there.
See earlier blog posts at http://www.transformativemediation.org