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How is Mediation Different?

by Mr. Jacob Hirsch



Whenever I meet people and begin speaking with them about the benefits of mediation, invariably a number of questions arise. Are other disputes ripe for mediation besides divorce? Must legal issues be present in the conflict? If not, then how is mediation any different then social work or other prevailing methods such as psychotherapy? I have come to the realization that apparently mediation is seldom understood and that is why I receive these simple yet seemingly complex inquiries. There is a wide range of issues and conflict that mediation can cover and be helpful to in our everyday lives. As the masses begin to appreciate its realistic approach they will begin to see that mediation has a unique approach that allows the potential for peaceful resolution of varied types of conflict.

Truth be told we are all in some ways social workers. I am not suggesting that we are as equipped as an MSW or CSW. Rather I am suggesting that Hashem has created all of us with innate capabilities many of which we are not even aware of. One could suggest that a kind word in the morning or a friendly smile at work in some way is the social worker in all of us in that we can easily, even without realizing it, uplift others spirits. Similarly one could suggest to a friend that is having difficulty coping that they seek professional help or just lend an ear and in that small way would be acting on some level as a therapist. Again, I am not suggesting that a PHD in Psychology is as simple as that. Nevertheless the point that I am trying to make is that with some interest in other peoples plight we can all try to be helpful to others in our own small way by using the innate social worker and therapist within.

What Mediation tries to accomplish is to build a rapport and connection to the parties by bringing out the “professional” within all of us. As a mediator we will not tell you what is wrong nor will we rehash the past and cast blame. The mediator is there to help facilitate resolutions by empowering the disputing parties with the knowledge and understanding that they can dig deep and help themselves to communicate their wants and desires so that they might more easily resolve the underlying dispute at hand. That is why most mediators will make it very clear from the outset that it is the parties themselves that will set the tone. It is the parties that know from whence this dispute arose and it this is their forum to try to resolve some of those issues that brought them to the session to begin with. I recall one mediator even going so far as to tell me that if the decibel level gets too high at the session then he might throw the parties off balance by simply asking the parties if “this is working for them” and if they say it is he will allow that to continue for some time. Most mediators are trained to facilitate and work with the parties rather then take over the forum and be directive.

It is precisely because the mediator tries to build a rapport and connection to the parties by helping them connect to their inner abilities that mediation is so helpful in settling all different types of disputes. Of course the courts are looking more and more towards mediators for help these days but legal issues need not be present and that is why parent-teenager conflicts as well as interpersonal neighbor conflicts are most often ripe for mediation as well.

Mediators are trained to help the parties express themselves constructively so that the parties can help themselves. Give a man a fish and he has what to eat for a day, teach him how to fish and he has sustenance for a lifetime. That is the goal of the mediator.

A mediator actively engages in the discussions, building rapport, listening carefully, asking questions, clarifying statements, and creating understanding between parties who may have had little success understanding each other at least in the recent past, if not for quite some time. The mediator listens and watches for opportunities for one to understand the other better or to acknowledge the other’s thoughts, ideas, and feelings. In the end it is your forum, the mediator is there merely to help you bring out that small social worker, therapist, communicator, that Hashem has uniquely placed within us all.


Mr. Jacob Hirsch, J.D. is a Certified Mediator/Divorce Mediator, member of the Association of Conflict Resolution as well as a member of the Family and Divorce Mediation Council of Greater New York. He maintains a practice in Brooklyn, N.Y. For more information and a free consultation contact him at (718) 327-9278 or (917) 840-4806.