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Mediation isn't just for settling legal disputes.

Mediation is, at its heart, intended to heal breaks in relationships. Some relationships are either already broken or they never quite need closeness - such as relationships between two divorced ex-spouses, or between an insurance company and the insured. Other relationships, though, look to mediation to bring them back to a healthier balance, such as a husband and wife (still married), or a parent and child, or an employer and employee. [NOTE: for more information about family mediation, see Family Triage.]

"Healing" mediation differs from "Legal" mediation both in practice and in desired outcome. While both forms aim for a mutually acceptable negotiated settlement, healing mediation seeks to end up with the two disputing parties rebuilding a broken or damaged relationship and focusing on an optimistic future together. Legal mediation generally involves situations where the disputants have broken their relationship and are looking for a not-so-bad settlement.

Perhaps some examples will help clarify the difference.

Legal mediations involve matters that could realistically be brought before a court of law. Candidates for legal mediation include divorces, child custody conflicts, child support restructuring, and ex-spouses who are conflicted over child raising questions, or civil cases such as severance packages between a leaving employee and the employer, or an insurance company and a disgruntled client. In these cases, both sides have strong feelings about their opposing sides, and their future relationships most likely will not be very amiable.

Healing mediations involve matters that would rarely qualify for a court hearing or a law suit. Common participants in healing mediations include husbands and wives with marriage relationship conflicts, parents and children with entrenched positions, some ex-spouses who are conflicted about minor children's needs, or neighborhood disagreements between families who want to patch things up and remain friends.

Healing Mediation is also known as preventive, transformative, or expert mediation. All these terms refer to a process of learning and growing, either in a conflicted relationship or in a stalled negotiation.

It is important, though, that you understand that even in mediations where the goal is healing a damaged relationship, this process is NOT counseling, psychology, therapy, or a substitute for those services. Psychological counseling or therapy seeks to correct problems in individuals and couples so they may rebuild their entire lives. Mediation simply helps disputing parties resolve conflicts in solutions that are acceptable to both sides. Big difference!

To read about how a mediator works to help disputants find a settlement, click here.

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Bob Collins, 479-522-7490, FamilyMediator; Fort Smith, AR 72917 - NWA Western Arkansas Eastern Oklahoma