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Mediation a Natural for Social Workers

Focus Is on Empowerment, Conflict Resolution

Social workers must stay neutral rather than falling into a therapeutic role.

Conflict is at the root of many areas of social work practice. School social workers deal with clashing students; policy professionals negotiate political disagreements; hospital social workers balance patient needs; clinical practitioners address internal battles.

In many ways, therefore, social workers are ideally suited to mediation practice. While the growing field is attracting people from many professions, the social work perspective gives mediators the advantage of the field's commitments to self-determination and conflict resolution.

The mediation process. Florida social worker and mediation trainer Tina Jaeckle explained that mediation is a part of the broader field of conflict resolution: "Conflict resolution is a huge, global arena — it can cover anything from international affairs to arbitration to peace keeping. . . . Mediation itself is a process in which a [trained] mediator goes in as a neutral third party and works with those who have a dispute or conflict."

Mediation can be used in a range of areas, including custody and divorce disputes, child welfare negotiations, the care of the elderly, school-based conflicts, discrimination complaints, nonviolent crimes or civil offenses, health care negotiations, public policy debates and even business-related conflicts. In recent years, many jurisdictions have begun to incorporate mandated mediation into their legal systems, which can help clear court dockets and allow disputing parties to develop their own resolution.

"Mediation is a neutral process," Jaeckle explained. "Whatever the outcome, they decide. My role is to ask the questions — 'Have you thought about this? What does that look like for the future?' I help people think through a lot of imagery."

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