About Mediation

Mediation & Counseling

Mediation and Counseling (or therapy) are both services that support people in dealing with conflict and personal change. If you are new to either mediation or counseling, distinguishing between the two can be slightly confusing because both mediation and counseling practitioners draw on similar skills of active listening, communication and system theory, and understanding relationship dynamics. Adding to this confusion is the variance of styles that the mediator and counselor practice, which can be more similar or more contrasted with the other discipline. Yet the two are clearly distinct, as highlighted by the purpose of each:

Mediation - focuses on the specific and immediate task of negotiating and resolving issues (including communication).

Counseling - focuses more generally on intra- and inter-personal beliefs, attitudes, and communication.

The professional's training, the tone, and the processes used are all quite different in serving the distinct goals of mediation and counseling. Some of the other ways they compare with each other are as follows:

  Mediation Counseling / Therapy
Length of Time
(# of sessions)
Confined to resolving immediate issues at hand (usually two to eight sessions, depending on complexity of issues). Undefined and may be ongoing.
Handling Emotions Often briefly acknowledges the emotions that are present, for the purpose of clarifying what the issue at hand means to each party. Often explores the emotions more deeply, for exploring patterns or the core beliefs they stem from.
Decision Making A mediator does not make decisions, but organizes information and guides the parties towards resolving their own conflict. A counselor can be a decision-maker, advising a client on ways to meet goals for personal change.
Types of
A mediator asks questions that focus on the conflict presented, for understanding what's important to each party and the emotions/behaviors around the conflict situation(s). A counselor asks questions that focus on past behavior, family history, psychological well-being; looking for and diagnosing emotional patterns and behaviors.
Outcomes Results in new understandings, and mutually developed, specific (often written) agreements for guiding future actions and behaviors. Leads to personal insights about perceptions, belief systems and behaviors, that can lead to change in an individual's behavior.
Healing Potential Is therapeutic in that it generates relief of tension around the situation, and can build trust in oneself to clarify needs and resolve difficult interpersonal challenges, and can restore some trust in other party. However, this is a side benefit, and not the purpose or focus or mediation. Is directly therapeutic can transform how client sees the experiences self in the world, into more clear and self-empowered.

Getting the Best from Both
In conflict situations where there are both challenging practical decisions and agreements that need to be made while in the midst of intense emotional investment and reactivity (such as divorce), many people are satisfied using mediation and counseling to complement each other. The mediator assists in guiding people through the process of organizing and identifying issues, and negotiating solutions that meet both parties' needs. As part of this process, each party might be seeing a counselor to support them in processing the deeper emotions of hurt, anger, and grief.