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How to Become a Mediator in the United States

In a world where it seems like people are increasingly at odds with one another, being able to help resolve conflict is a particularly valuable skill. And if resolving conflict is something that you’re thinking about turning into a career, the field of mediation might just be for you.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for mediators are expected to grow at a rate of about 6% in the United States over the next decade. Compared to other occupations, this growth rate is just about average; the total growth rate expected for all occupations over the same time period is 5%. Median pay for mediators is just over $49,400 per year, slightly above the median wage for all US workers.

But how easy is it to become a mediator in the United States, and where do you start? Read on if you’d like to learn more about the field of mediation and whether it could be the right career path for you.

What Exactly Is a Mediator?

Mediators are conflict resolution specialists. They serve as neutral third parties who help people to resolve disputes. The beauty of mediation is that it’s a completely voluntary process for everyone involved. Unlike arbitrators or judges, mediators do not make decisions for the disputants; rather, they help the parties in a dispute come to a mutually agreeable solution.

The mediator’s role is to guide the parties through a process. And the goal of that process is to give the disputants the opportunity to devise their own solutions to their conflict.

What Does the Mediation Process Look Like?

Mediation can take a number of different forms, dependent on the type of dispute and the parties involved. At its most basic, mediation is a process for helping two people resolve a dispute. The mediator serves as an impartial third party, guiding the disputants as they attempt to come up with their own solutions to their issues.

Mediations can be used for a variety of different types of disputes, from workplace issues to divorces to international conflicts. And although a mediator’s role is always as a neutral party who doesn’t take sides or make judgments, the preparation you need to mediate a conflict over international boundaries is obviously different than the preparation you’d need to mediate a business dispute.

What Types of Mediation Are There?

It’s a good idea to have some sense of the type of mediation that most interests you before seeking out educational or training programs. Your interests can help guide the type of training you seek out. Some different areas of mediation practice include (but certainly are not limited to):

  • Business
  • Divorce & Child Custody
  • Employment
  • Health Care
  • Probate & Trusts
  • Real Estate

What Are the Rules for Becoming a Mediator?

In comparison to many other professions, mediation is not a highly regulated field. Many professions – from attorneys to hairdressers to real estate agents – require some type of license to practice. This is generally not true for mediators. In most states, there is no formal licensing or regulation of private mediators – meaning that if someone is willing to hire you to mediate a dispute, you are free to do so.

Practically, however, many mediators work on cases that are connected to the court system – for example, a business dispute where one party has sued another or a divorce case from a family court.

States have varying rules for mediators who wish to work on these types of court-connected cases. In Alaska, for example, virtually anyone can act as a mediator. In Louisiana, in order to handle court-connected cases, you must be either licensed to practice law or have already mediated at least 25 disputes. In California, mediators wishing to handle court cases must complete at least 40 hours of mediation training. The majority of states do have some training requirements for court-connected mediators, with most requiring between 20 and 40 hours of training or mediation practice.

Do I Need To Attend Law School to be a Mediator?

Not necessarily. Mediation is often used as an alternative to the court system to help resolve disputes before they actually go to trial. And although the practice of mediation sometimes has overlap with the legal system, having a law degree is not a requirement for becoming a mediator.

A number of colleges and universities offer degrees and certificates in conflict or dispute resolution. These programs often provide a background in topics such as negotiation theory, communication skills, and conflict analysis. And while there are generally no formal educational requirements for mediators, earning a certificate or degree in dispute resolution can provide you with a starting point in your journey toward becoming a mediator.

What Other Training is Available for Mediators?

Because so much mediation is court-connected, the court systems in many states and localities have set up training programs for people interested in becoming mediators. These training programs generally range from 20 to 40 hours and cover the basics of handling a mediation case. They will often give examples of common types of disputes, provide you with negotiating and communication techniques, and offer opportunities to take part in role-plays and other practice opportunities.

In addition to these basic mediation training programs, more specialized offerings are also available. For example, if you are interested in practicing mediation focused on family or relationship issues, a number of divorce mediation training programs are available.

Opportunities for Practice

After you’ve studied dispute resolution or completed a 40-hour mediation training program, you may still want to gain some practical experience in a mediation setting. Many communities have nonprofit organizations dedicated to neighborhood conflict resolution where you can volunteer to resolve local-level disputes. These types of organizations typically assist neighbors or landlords and tenants who are trying to resolve an issue without going to court. Volunteering for one of these groups is an excellent way to gain some practical experience in the mediation field. Alternatively, local court systems are frequently looking for volunteer mediators to handle small claims or eviction cases.

Professional Mediation Associations

Another important way to gain a foothold in the world of mediation is to research and connect to some of the existing professional mediation associations in your area. These groups are great sources of information and provide opportunities to learn from and network with other mediators. For example, the Association for Conflict Resolution is an international professional association that provides information about training programs, conferences, and other events of interest for mediators. Other, more specialized associations, such as the Academy of Professional Family Mediators, provide information and support for mediators working in a particular area of mediation practice.

It’s well worth your time to seek out these types of professional associations. They’ll help you get a sense of what’s happening with other mediators in your geographic or practice area.

Getting Started

You now have some idea of the training and professional requirements necessary to become a mediator. Perhaps the trickiest part is turning that knowledge into a career. There are a few different paths you can take. The majority of professional mediators enter private practice – this route will require a strategy for marketing yourself and bringing in clients. Other mediators join firms in their area of practice, which can be a good strategy as you establish yourself as an effective dispute resolution professional. In some areas, the court system itself hires mediators to help with caseloads.

Whatever your path, mediation can be incredibly rewarding work. Resolving difficult conflicts can be life-changing for the disputants, and it can help bring a bit more peace and understanding into a world that could certainly use it.