Eileen Coen Mediation
The road you take makes all the difference.

Does “Mediator Certification” Matter?

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Yes and No. In the mediation world, practitioners debate whether mediators ought to be certified and, if so, how to do it. Some courts allow only “certified mediators” to be placed on court rosters, but most simply require that mediators have completed a 40-hour training class. And in the private sector, there are no requirements at all. 

Can a mediator be trained or are mediators born?  

Some professionals simply do not acquire the skill and art of mediation, despite training.  And some are natural consensus-builders without any formal mediation training at all.

It’s only been in recent years that college and graduate students can major in conflict resolution and pursue mediation as a career; in the past, mediation professionals evolved or happened into their mediator role. A famous example is Kenneth Feinberg, prominent attorney mediator, 9/11 victim fund manager, and go-to guy for complex multi-party conflict resolution. I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure he never took a 40-hour mediation training.

To do this work well requires both subject matter competence and process expertise. Can this be taught or measured? Is certification a stamp of competency?

What’s unique about Maryland’s performance-based certification?

The Maryland Council for Dispute Resolution (MCDR) is one of the few credentialing organizations in the United States that certifies mediators based – not upon number of training hours or years of practice – but upon the mediator’s demonstrated performance.

When I first joined the ranks of MCDR-certified mediators, there were fewer than 50 throughout the state. I knew it was voluntary and unlikely to be an important credential to consumers, but it was very important to me. I viewed the MCDR assessment process as an extraordinary opportunity to receive constructive feedback from some of the most seasoned mediators in Maryland.

Not only must candidates have sufficient mediation experience and training, the mediator must demonstrate skills in a “lab” setting during a simulated role play. Upon completion, candidates receive a video recording of the mediation and assessors provide oral and written feedback on demonstrated competency. Those who do not meet the standards for certification may return for additional assessments, free of charge. Some practitioners admit they don’t care about “passing” as much as they seek the valuable feedback.

I was so impressed with the performance-based assessment process that I began volunteering with the committee. Beginning this fall, I will be the Vice Chair of MCDR’s Mediator Certification Committee.

We are not all Ken Feinbergs. In the absence of national or governing body standards, performance-based certification should be relevant to serious practitioners. And as public awareness of mediation continues to increase, it is likely that consumers will vest more confidence in a mediator’s demonstrated ability to facilitate problem-solving conversations and help achieve settlements that meet every party’s interests.

Additional information about Maryland’s certification process and a list of certified mediators is available at www.mcdr.org

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