Accommodating Mediation Participants (cont'd from page 1)

The Mediator's Job

While it is not the mediator's job to diagnose a participant as having a mental health or addictions problem, it is the role of the mediator to assess and evaluate the ability of the participant to engage in the mediation in a meaningful way. Sometimes this requires that the mediator work with a participant with compromised capacity to set up accommodations to the mediation process so that the person can still participate. This is especially important for the participant who is struggling with the symptoms of a mental health and/or addictions disorder. The willingness to be creative in developing these accommodations for the participant with compromised capacity is based on two core values: selfdetermination and inclusiveness. As mediators, we want to be able to assist participants, wherever possible, to feel empowered in making their own decisions about issues that affect them directly. Secondly, the value of inclusiveness means that all participants who can add value to the mediation process through their involvement or who are parties in the negotiation should, wherever possible, be included regardless of the presence of a disorder.

Hidden Health and Addiction Issues

Mental health and addictions issues tend to be hidden unless the participant identifies themselves as having a problem. For this reason, I believe mediators should be proactive in asking participants questions about their general emotional and behavioral functioning and any barriers that may impede their ability to participate in the mediation. This may include asking questions about the participant's ability to concentrate and process information, and their ability to cope with stress, particularly during the mediation. General questions about ability to function in mediation often lead to disclosures about symptoms that point to the existence of a mental health, and/or addictions problem. I find it helps to use neutral language when asking such questions; for example, "Have you been feeling low?" "Have you been stressed lately?" "What is helping and not helping you to cope with these feelings?"

What can Help Mediators

It is helpful for mediators to have a basic knowledge of mental health and addictions problems and to be familiar with the types of symptoms that participants may talk about or present in the pre-mediation and mediation sessions. This knowledge is not for the purpose of providing a clinical diagnosis, as this is outside the realm of the role of the mediator, but rather to assist the mediator and the participant to plan together how best to structure the mediation to accommodate their needs. A good resource for nonclinicians to consult is The DSM-IV Made Easy. This book is easy to follow, and clearly lays out all of the necessary information for understanding psychiatric and addictions disorders.