Mediation vs. Collaboration? (Part 1)

MedvCollab (2)In October I attended and presented in two back-to-back professional conferences: The APFM Annual Conference (Academy of Professional Family Mediators, of which I’m a Board Member) and the IACP Annual Conference (International Academy of Collaborative Practitioners, of which I’ve been a regular member for several years). The energy and excitement were contagious in both groups. I saw lots of friends and attended some great sessions.However, some members see a bit of rivalry between these two approaches – divorce mediation and collaborative divorce – which I see as unnecessary. Both groups are working hard to help families (especially parents and children) stay out of Family Court and away from the adversarial process, which often does more harm than good. Both groups include some of the most experienced family professionals and provide excellent workshops for application to our practices. Both groups contain some of the same members. It’s exciting to see professionals (lawyers, counselors, financial advisors) who are exclusively working with families out of court using one or both of these methods.

Here’s some of the high points for me from the first conference (comments on the IACP later this week):

APFM (in Denver – Oct. 3-6): I got a lot out of Joan Kelly’s presentation on research on parenting plans in early childhood, and a presentation by Bill Doherty on helping couples discern what to do when one person wants the divorce and the other doesn’t. Both challenged assumptions that there’s a clear right answer on these issues. Instead, we should help the parties explore their own goals and arrangements – and come to their own conclusions. As mediators, we can guide couples in making these decisions, rather than having them rely on a judge in court to make these decisions for them – based on very little information.

Such client empowerment was also the theme for my session on “Structuring High-Conflict Mediation.” I emphasized teaching and reinforcing four skills for couples to use during the mediation process: Asking questions, setting their agenda, making proposals and making decisions. I emphasized the mediator’s role as a “guide,” reinforcing these skills throughout the process, rather than taking over with highly-directed questioning and quickly suggesting solutions to their problems – tendencies that we all have when dealing with upset high-conflict clients. Instead, we need to slow down and tolerate the delayed gratification of a quick decision and show them confidence with the step-by-step work of making their own decisions, especially by making proposals and asking questions respectfully of each other and providing information. To demonstrate, I showed some clips from my just-completed videos for teaching this skills-focused method, which I call “New Ways for Mediation.” (Now available on our Video Training On Demand page on the High Conflict Institute website).

Since I am the Chair of the Training Committee, I was excited to have more members sign up to help plan activities for the coming year, including three Subcommittees:

  1. Training Panel: This subcommittee is developing speakers and trainers for APFM to offer training to those in various states and regions who are increasingly using Mediation in and out of court systems.
  2. Training Standards: This subcommittee is updating standards for APFM to approve family mediations trainers and trainings by various providers in the coming years, as well as synchronizing these standards with our Certification Committee. Our goal is to provide sufficient training, so that family mediators can qualify for APFM Certification status. Certification is one of the major goals of APFM, so that people can use Certified Family Mediators with confidence around the U.S. (and the world).
  3. Advanced Trainings in 2014: We are working on an Advanced Training in April on Multicultural Issues in Divorce Mediation (more information will be posted on the APFM website when dates and details are finalized: We will also repeat our highly-regarded Advanced Training on Power Imbalance in July in Seattle (last year’s was in Atlanta).

It was APFM’s Second Annual Conference. There was a lot of energy and engagement, with mediators from several countries and many family mediators I had not seen for years.

Next year’s Third Annual Conference will be in San Diego – my home base! – on October 16-19, 2014. I encourage all family mediators to consider attending, learning a lot, engaging with like-minded colleagues – and enjoying our mild weather! In fact, just plan on coming to San Diego for the whole week!


Bill Eddy is an attorney, mediator and therapist, and the President of the High Conflict Institute, which provides speakers and trainers to professionals for managing personality disorders and “high-conflict people” in legal disputes, workplace disputes, healthcare disputes and educational disputes. High Conflict Institute also provides resources for anyone dealing with a high-conflict person, including books, Video Training On Demand and dozens of free articles. For more information: