Integrative Mediation

photo of hands in a circle

Integrative Mediation is a co-mediation process in which a lawyer-mediator and a mental health professional (MHP)-mediator jointly attend to the legal and emotional needs of the parties in helping them to reach a mutually satisfactory resolution to their dispute. What distinguishes Integrative Mediation from other forms of conflict resolution, and even other forms of co-mediation, is that the therapist-mediator and the lawyer-mediator work together co-equally through every phase of the case, giving equal weight to the legal as well as to the psychological and emotional facets of a given dispute. Traditionally, MHPs in co-mediation have played a secondary role, such as “dealing with the parties’ emotions,” or (in divorce cases) handling the negotiation of a parenting plan (usually without the presence of the attorney-mediator). Integrative Mediation recognizes the equal value provided by both mediators and the synergistic advantages offered by the two professions working together on all aspects of the case.

Integrative Mediation takes the position that all legal disputes are human problems as well as legal ones, and that a comprehensive conflict management process must therefore address the psychological and emotional as well as the legal components of a dispute. Historically our legal culture has ignored the emotional and psychological dimensions of disputes, making them irrelevant to the proper analysis and resolution of a given problem. For example, in the current no-fault divorce setting the law doesn’t care whether a spouse had an affair. Its only concern is to divide property equitably, arrive at appropriate support numbers, and ensure that the children have continuous and meaningful contact with both parents. But to the parties attempting to mediate their divorce case, the fact that one of them was unfaithful to the other, and that one feels humiliated, betrayed, hurt and angry, can make a huge difference to how the negotiation unfolds. If that party’s hurt is unrecognized and unaddressed, at a minimum that aspect of the case will not be resolved for that party (and possibly the other as well), and worse, the unaddressed emotional problem can and often will sabotage the efficient resolution of the “legal” aspects of the case. By attending holistically to the legal/financial and the psychological/emotional aspects of the case at all times, the Integrative Mediation team maximizes the odds of a more efficient process and the achievement of a deeper, more comprehensive resolution.

Advantages of Integrative Mediation:

  • With both legal and emotional arenas addressed, the parties can make more fully informed decisions.
  • With both legal and emotional dimensions addressed, the parties tend to have more buy-in, resulting in more comprehensive and more durable agreements.
  • Parties often report feeling more positive about each other, able to communicate better, better able to handle their conflicts going forward.
  • In divorce cases, Integrative Mediation can lay the seeds of emotional closure and enhance psychological adjustment post-divorce, as well as the establishment of a new “businesslike” coparenting relationship.
  • Less expensive than having a full collaborative team while retaining many of the advantages, such as the ability to bring in financial neutrals and child specialists.

Integrative Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution that is appropriate in all cases and for all kinds of disputes, particularly those cases in which the parties are interested in more than simply a termination of the dispute, or where more than just money is at stake. This can include cases where the parties recognize that strong feelings are involved, where mental illness is present, or where the parties want to use the conflict as an opportunity for deepening their understanding or maintaining and improving future relationships. The subject matter of such disputes could include family/divorce, elder, probate, partnership dissolution, workplace disputes, wrongful termination, personal injury, neighbor disputes, inter- or intra-departmental disputes, breach of contract, infliction of emotional distress, and so on.

Although I am the founder and principal trainer of Integrative Mediation Marin, and am an enthusiastic proponent of this approach to dispute resolution, I have a rather unique approach to Integrative Mediation, in that I am a mediator who is both a lawyer and a clinical psychologist—and hence a one-person integrative mediator. For me, bring cross-trained in both law and psychology is the best possible training for a mediator. I can seamlessly integrate the full range of advantages of both skill sets, and still charge a single mediator’s fee. My motivation for advocating Integrative Mediation arose out of my desire to make the dynamic synergy of law and psychology in dispute resolution more widely available, given the relatively few individuals who are trained in both disciplines.