• Standing in the Parties' Shoes


    By Kenneth Clarke

    In February all the mediators at Laceys were treated to an Advanced Mediation Training Day, presented by experienced mediator and trainer Adrian Wright.

    Much of Adrian’s presentation focussed on how to handle impasses in child mediation cases caused by high conflict between the parties. Trying to separate parents from strong and often destructive emotions is a challenge we face daily. It is a challenge that must be sensitively overcome if parents are to co-parent successfully.

    The most interesting part of the day was a role-play of a classic impasse situation. Angela Riley and Gemma Burden “became” the entrenched and anxious parties, while Michelle Bettell and Becky Vallory played the mediators attempting to manage some tricky emotions caused by the death of a young father and the resulting strained relationship between the surviving mother and paternal grandparent, who was seeking regular contact to her grandchild.

    To prepare them for this challenging scenario Adrian showed us a DVD of children of various age groups speaking painfully and candidly about their feelings following the separation of their parents, and how they were affected by poor communication between mum and dad. The children’s stories of attachment and loss mirrored the underlying emotions of the parties in the subsequent role-play.

    Adrian also demonstrated how the elements of different models of mediation (including transformative, narrative and therapeutic) can be utilised andor adapted as effective impasse tools.

    As the grandmother, Angela was a formidable (and realistic!) obstacle to Gemma’s defensive and cautious mother. Becky and Michelle had to call upon a range of skills to manage the session, including setting boundaries, diffusing anger, clarifying positions and proactively developing options.

    Venting played an important part in the session, but when the parties started to lose focus Becky and Michelle brought the child into the room metaphorically, which, as Adrian pointed out, requires a left brain (logical) response, rather than an emotional one.

    Although, as often happens in deep-rooted impasse cases, total resolution of all issues was not possible, a compromise in the form of interim arrangements was agreed between mother and paternal grandmother. Tolerance, patience and understanding by all participants helped set-up this outcome, proving that role-play, like art, often mirrors life