Conflicts, disputes and disagreements are distressing to experience. We can feel intrinsically threatened when we sense our needs and interests are not being taken into account by another party, and that sense of threat triggers the brain’s fight-flight-freeze response.
If we have been in a dispute situation for weeks, months or years, we can feel drained by the adrenaline and cortisol produced by that enduring fight-flight-freeze state. So then, to enter a mediation room (whether virtual or in-person) can feel like an overwhelming and stressful challenge.
And what if we also have an underlying mental health condition, which may also have been exacerbated by the dispute? How much more daunting or demanding can it be to enter the mediation room?
There is plenty a mediator can do to support a person’s mental health and wellbeing when they are going through the mediation process. And the good news is that mediation is a proven way to resolve the dispute that seemed so intractable and relentless, which means the parties involved will be able to start putting both life and wellbeing back together again.
What can a mediator do to support the mental health and wellbeing of mediation clients?
Meet privately with clients to listen to their perspective and understand their viewpoint
Describe the mediation process clearly in advance
Discuss any adjustments which might help the clients access the mediation in a way that feels safe and supported
Structure a mediation across two shorter meetings instead of one longer meeting
Work with the parties to agree guidelines on communication and behaviour in the joint meeting, so that everyone knows their voice will be heard and valued
Coach parties ahead of the joint meeting in how to express their feelings and needs in a way that can be heard by the other party
Take regular breaks in joint meetings, for rest, and for private meetings with the mediator
What can a mediation client do to support their own mental health and wellbeing during mediation?
Share your hopes and concerns for the mediation with the mediator in private meetings
Remember your mediator will keep everything you say confidential, and is trained to be impartial... but also empathetic to your feelings and the impact of the dispute upon you.
Consider disclosing any needs or adjustments related to your mental health in advance of the meeting
You might wish to bring a supporter, like an advocate or a union rep, to the mediation - discuss this with your mediator in advance.
You might wish to ask in advance for regular breaks, and shorter joint meetings. You can always ask your mediator for a private meeting during the joint meeting.
It can be really helpful to prepare what you want to say, and get out of the mediation, in advance. Some bullet points will help you feel more at ease as you begin.
You can ask your mediator to clarify or summarise points or agreements if you are not sure or comfortable with what is being discussed.
Often, people are worried that they might show emotions of sadness or anger, but revealing emotions is actually a natural and normal part of resolution. If you express yourself using ‘I’ words (e.g. “I felt angry when...” or “I feel sad that you think that...”) you can convey your authentic feelings while keeping the dialogue going.
If you are in a disagreement, conflict or dispute and it is affecting your mental health and wellbeing, mediation is an excellent option for you. Not only is the process completely voluntary and confidential, but the outcomes are determined by the parties involved, so you do not need to commit to any agreement or outcome that doesn’t work for you. You will be working with an expert facilitator who will help you come to a resolution that is workable for both/all parties - giving you the opportunity to recoup your wellbeing and move on with life again.
If you are a mediator who would like to feel better equipped to support the mental health and wellbeing of your clients, you may be interested in joining one of my Mental Health First Aid England accredited courses, which I run for groups of mediators. The next one is the half-day MHFA England certificated course, Mental Health Aware, available exclusively to mediators, on the 29th July (10am - 2.30pm). You can find more information on the Mental Health Aware course here and as a member of the Association of Southwest Mediators network, you are welcome to use this discounted booking link (20% discount pre-applied): www.eventbrite.com/e/154387339689/?discount=DISCOUNT20
Arabella Tresilian is member of the Association of South West Mediators and a CEDR-accredited mediator specialising in mental health, social care and the workplace. She is also an approved MHFA instructor. Alongside her mediation practice (Arabella practices independently and for the Association of Southwest Mediators, the Medical Mediation Foundation and Resolve West), Arabella set up the School of Dialogue to train individuals in communication and conflict resolution skills, with an emphasis on mental health and wellbeing. More information: https://www.aswm.org.uk/arabella-tresilian
The Association of South West Mediators (“ASWM”) is a group of independent mediators based in and around the South West of England. The group’s aims are:
To promote the use of mediation, particularly within the South West region;
To provide a choice of experienced and reliable mediators to those wishing to find a suitable mediator;
To provide professional support to mediators across the region with a wide range of different areas of expertise
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