A mediator is a neutral third party who facilitates a conversation between two or more parties in a conflict. A mediator uses his or her skills to bring the parties to a settlement. However, the mediator does not decide what the settlement might be, which remains within the parties’ control. Unlike a judge, a mediator does not provide his or her opinion on the merits of the conflict.
Do I need formal training to become a mediator?
Mediation is generally an unregulated profession. However, practicing as a court mediator (which most mediators like to do) requires you to comply with your state courts’ educational and experiential requirements. These requirements usually include completing 40 hours of basic mediation training and a minimum number of mediations post-training. Training requirements for each state can be found at this link.
For those intending to practice privately as mediators, there is no formal requirement to attend a training course. However, professionals often use this lack of regulation as a license to simply call themselves mediators and begin performing mediations. This is specially the case with some experienced attorneys and retired judges. The common misconception being that since legal professionals regularly deal with conflict, they are pre-qualified to perform mediation as it forms part of conflict resolution. This trend leads to a number of unsuccessful mediations and unsustainable settlements. Whereas the mediation process is aimed at empowering the parties to voluntarily resolve their disputes through facilitation, the lack of proper training results in mediators becoming judgmental and incapable of exercising the skills of communication and conflict resolution key to the mediation process. Parties feel bullied by mediators forcing settlements down their throats and end up withdrawing from the process.
It is therefore key for those interested in mediation to seek adequate training before stepping into the field.
How do I find the right training course in California?
While there are no state-wide requirements for qualifications of mediators in court-connected mediation programs (each court has its own requirements), the Supreme Court of California provides model standards for mediator qualifications which include 40 hours of basic mediation training followed by at least two mediations of at least two hours in length that are co-mediated with or observed by a mentor mediator. You should therefore ensure that any course fulfills the requirements of the California Dispute Resolution Programs Act (DRPA).
Furthermore, you can research training opportunities using the California state directory at the National Institute for Advanced Conflict Resolution. The Northern California Mediation Center recommends a 40-hour intensive training course for beginning mediators, though you may take additional courses if you wish.
When selecting a mediation course, you should ensure that as well as fulfilling relevant state requirements, it is led by experienced trainers. The course provider’s graduates or network of mediators should preferably include numerous successful mediators. Positive testimonials on the course website are usually a good indication of this.
It is advised to ensure that trainers on the course are full-time rather than a part-time mediators. This focus is key as a number of professionals use mediation as secondary practice in addition to their primary roles. Someone who mediates day in and day out will have far greater experience and expertise than the occasional mediator.
It is also helpful for the course to be externally accredited by a recognized mediation organization. In the absence of formal regulation, certain private bodies have worked to develop standards for mediation training and service provision over the last 30 years. For example, these organizations include the International Mediation Institute (IMI) and the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CIArb). If a training course is externally approved, this suggests that the quality of the training and its course content is verifiable and therefore trustworthy.
A good mediation course focuses on both practical learning and written assessments. Review your course provider’s training outline and testimonials to assess how much they focus on practical education. You should aim to enroll in courses which include practical workshops and roleplay exercises since mediation requires the development of soft skills that are acquired through practical learning.
You should also seek courses which incorporate some sort of career building guidance. A certificate alone will not build your practice. Post-qualification, you will need to build a network and market your practice to gain clientele. This can be a tricky process, as mediation is not a regulated profession with structured pathways into the field. Without the right guidance, opportunities might be hard to come by. On a training course, this guidance can take the form of a “career building” session during the course. During this session, experienced mediators provide insights on the commercial dynamics of the field and information on how to gain initial experience.
Leading Course Providers
The National Conflict Resolution Centre (NCRC) provides an intensive mediation course which includes a three-pronged curriculum: 30 hours of mediator skills training, a supervised experiential internship, and a detailed performance evaluation. The experiential component includes two observations and eight mediations. The course is designed to be completed in 9 months and there are no previous education requirements. If you are interested in the course, you should note that due to its popularity, there is usually a wait list to enroll in the course.
The California State University (CSUDH) also provides a 100-hour long mediation training course which covers different areas of mediation. The course also offers participants the opportunity to observe mediations and co-mediate cases. This course is recommended for professionals seeking to practice in areas of counseling, educational administration, human resources, and teaching. The graduates of this course are also eligible to gain membership of the Southern California Mediation Association (SCMA).
The Los Angeles County Bar Association (LACBA) provides a 40-hour training course which provides a strong foundation in mediation skills through lecture, small group exercises, and role-playing. It is rich in both theory and practice.
Phoenix Dispute Solutions (PDSL) provides its own accredited mediation training. The 40-hour mediation training course is externally approved by the Civil Mediation Council, International Mediation Institute, the New York Unified Court system and several other bodies. The course also complies with the training requirements set out in the California Dispute Resolution Programs Act (DRPA).