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Monday, August 17

GROW: Mediation - An Alternative Dispute Resolution Process as an Alternative to Grow Your Practice

Paulette Janus, LCSW, and Ellen Lammers, LCSW
Co-Chairs, Mediator Shared Interest Group (SIG)

This article is intended to help you Grow Your Business. If you have practical experience and knowledge on the business of social work (ex., starting a private practice, marketing yourself, financial guidance), please consider contributing an article! Submit your article proposal online here.

The NASW Illinois Chapter has a Mediator Shared Interest Group (SIG) that promotes social workers as mediators and provides networking and education opportunities. For ways to get involved with the Mediator SIG, send an e-mail to mediator [at] naswil [dot] org. 

As private practitioners, one of the most common questions is how to build both a profitable and rewarding practice. Think about your practice: do you provide any other service besides therapy? Have you ever even thought about other services? Our skill sets as social workers are valuable in many areas. We understand systems, relationships, effective communication, problem solving, and so many other skills. By not thinking outside of the therapy box we not only limit our potential, but we also miss out on great opportunities to better help individuals, families, and communities.

One area that social workers can greatly contribute to is as mediators. Although mediation is used in all areas where conflict arises, this article will focus on family/divorce mediation.

You have likely heard of at least one account of a nasty divorce, taking years and tens of thousands of dollars within the legal system. This is because the legal system is adversarial and designed in a win-lose manner. Yet it does not have to be that way. Did you know there is more than one way to divorce? We call them the “-ations”—mediation, collaboration, and litigation. Over 90 percent of divorces settle prior to trial, so the question really is how, when, and at what financial and emotional cost will the case settle.

What is mediation? According to the NASW Standards of Practice for Social Work Mediators, “Mediation is an approach to conflict resolution in which a mutually acceptable third party helps the participants negotiate a consensual and informed settlement. In mediation, decision-making rests with the parties. Reducing the obstacles to communication, maximizing the exploration of alternatives, and addressing the needs of those who are involved or affected by the issues under discussion are among the mediator’s responsibilities.”

Mediation is a process to divorce that involves the two parties sitting together with a mediator and coming to agreements on a parenting plan and on division of assets and liabilities. The mediator acts as a neutral third party, not providing legal advice or guidance. Rather the mediator facilitates discussion so that the parties can make their own decisions rather than a judge. This gives the parties control of decision-making and makes it more likely that the parties will follow the agreements they reach. It also promotes communication and working together, which is particularly important for the parties’ continued co-parenting relationship if they have children. Mediation is also private and confidential. Not all divorcing couples are able to reach agreements through mediation, yet for those who are able mediation offers great benefits.What’s not to love?

Divorce is difficult enough, so shouldn’t we be working towards a more amicable process for clients to move forward in a more hopeful and peaceful way? Shouldn’t we focus on the strengths of the parties and finding a win-win solution? As social workers, we are able to facilitate respectful, focused communication helping to identify how the parties’ emotions are impacting the divorce process which in turn allows the parties to focus on the resolution of disagreements rather than escalating to all out war.

Most commonly mediators have backgrounds as attorneys, mental health professionals, and financial professionals. Although there are no standard guidelines for the necessary qualifications to becoming a mediator, it is important for social workers to follow our ethical guidelines and to practice in areas only in which we have training and expertise. We recommend that to become a mediator, it is necessary to take a forty-hour mediation course, to continue education and training in alternative dispute resolution, and to maintain a good network of others that work within the divorce realm including attorneys, other mental health professionals, and financial professionals. Through mediation, you can both grow your practice and help those who are divorcing to do so in a different way.

paulette janus

Paulette Janus, MSW, LCSW, is founder of Janus Behavioral Health Services with offices in Lincoln Park and Wilmette. Paulette has over fifteen years experience providing individual, couples, and family psychotherapy, specializing in children, teens, and families. She is also trained in and provides alternative dispute resolution interventions including family/divorce mediation, collaborative divorce coaching, child specialist services, and co-parent coaching.


Ellene Lammers

Ellene Lammers, MSSW, LCSW,has many years of experience working with individuals of all ages. She is in private practice in Vernon Hills, IL, and provides divorce coaching for couples who have chosen collaborative divorce, as well as divorce mediation for those preferring such approaches to divorce as opposed to litigation. 

Posted on 08/17/15 at 08:00 AM


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