With the recent controversy surrounding The Jeremy Kyle Show, it has reminded me of an interesting little conversation that happened to me just over a year ago.
Having just joined UK Mediation at the time, I met up with a few friends to celebrate the good news. And, when it came to telling them about the new job, explaining the marketing bit was easy – the actual business and industry far less so.
You see, if you mention that we help to resolve disputes between individuals, the first thing that seems to spring to peoples’ minds is, “Oh, like Jeremy Kyle?” Or at least with my friends anyway!
And, while this comparison has never been accurate, the extent of this tragic controversy has only served to highlight just how different both approaches are.
In this blog, I’ll be looking at the ten main differences between what we do here at UK Mediation and what (allegedly) went on during Britain’s favourite mid-morning show.
Mediation is confidential
Of course, by far the most obvious difference between the two is that no mediation case takes place in front of a national TV audience, as well as a fairly sizeable studio audience!
One of the main benefits of mediation is that it is completely confidential, with only the parties, the mediator, and occasionally the referrer being privy to the conversation. This means that the dispute can be worked on without the fear of repercussion from others.
Mediation is impartial
How many times have we seen a classic Jeremy Kyle outburst, disgusted at the fact that someone’s not seen their child for over 6 months? Or at the fact that one of the guests has been texting 10 people at the same time behind their partner’s back?
Simply put, this would be unthinkable as a mediator. Contrary to other forms of dispute resolution, mediation aims to find an agreement without the input of a third party. So, while the mediator is technically involved, they can’t let their biases or prejudices affect the process in any way.
Mediation is voluntary
Again, another unique facet to mediation is that the entire process is voluntary. This leads to a whole host of benefits, including greater control for the parties, reducing anxieties, and improving the likelihood of sticking to an agreement.
And, while it seems that walking off The Jeremy Kyle Show seems fairly commonplace, not to mention the contracts that participants voluntarily sign, show bosses have now come under criticism for manipulating guests into taking part. Add to this threats that may come from outside of production – go with me or you’ll never see your kid again – and you have to question whether it really can be considered voluntary.
Striving for a win-win outcome
Has there ever been a featured dispute where both parties have come away equally happy with the resolution? Call me sceptical but I’m inclined to think not.
Even if there is a positive ending, the entire situation (including the above factors) makes it very hard to come out with a mutually-beneficial win-win outcome. Did the audience boo one of the parties? Was Jeremy particularly harsh in his comments? How will they react to being on national TV?
And, of course, this could all have a knock-on effect with the agreement, their commitment to the outcome, and the future relationship.
There are no decisions made
Let’s talk about that infamous lie detector test.
As professional mediators, we must be totally aware that we are not there to make a decision. As mentioned previously, we are completely neutral and impartial throughout the process, and we are also not there to make suggestions about what the parties should or should not do.
Not only does this happen all of the time on the show, they also put a lot of weight on a lie detector test that is not 100% scientifically accurate. Not only is this pretty unethical, it also takes away all power and responsibility from the parties.
Focuses on ‘here and now’
As mediators, we are constantly trying to take the participants out of the Past and bring them into the Present (see our blog on “Zones” here). This can help to stop them blaming each other for things that happened previously, while also getting them to think more positively about what they want now and for the future.
However, with the Jeremy Kyle Show, very little talk seems to be of this nature. After all, it’s considered far more entertaining to see people arguing about what’s gone on than to see them having a constructive and structured conversation!
Less of the aggression!
Imagine a mediation session where a) abusive and insulting language was allowed, and b) where you had to have several security guards on hand just in case things kicked off. Not likely, right?
However, as we are still dealing with disputes that illicit highly-emotional responses, we do need to have rules and boundaries in place. For example, most mediators will ask that there is at least one side room available, just in case one of the parties needs to cool off for a while. Shuttle mediation is also an option too, and many mediators will employ a “three strikes” rule for instances of poor behaviour.
Factoring in vulnerability
Much has also been made of Jeremy Kyle’s troubled and vulnerable guests being taken advantage of. It’s well documented that many had mental health issues and were at their lowest point, drawn in with the promise of DNA and lie detector tests, as well as support and care afterwards. And, in actual fact (or so it is claimed), they received very little of any of this.
Mediation, on the other hand, is entirely up to the judgement of the mediator. From receipt of the referral form, through to what they see and hear in the individual sessions, they may decide to alter the process if one party (or more) seems particularly vulnerable. This could include implementing regular breaks, the use of side rooms or, in the worst case scenario, calling it off altogether.
There are also claims that the show more-or-less abandoned guests once filming was done. So, even though aftercare, therapy, and rehabilitation were all offered, many claim it was actually non-existent. This can be particularly dangerous and unethical, especially after exposing them to such an intense and emotional experience.
This is unlike mediation, where mediators will follow up with the parties after a set amount of time. This can be done by telephone or email to check in on the parties and see how the relationship has been getting on. A follow-up report will also be given to the referrer to let them know that this has happened too.
Not for entertainment!
Most importantly, resolving disputes is not for the benefit of a studio audience or for the millions of people sat at home.
As many of us will be aware through our own experiences, or of those around us, conflict and disputes can have a hugely negative effect on our lives. They can lead to stress, poor mental health, and even physical illness, and it doesn’t seem right that all of this should be played out on television.
Mediation, on the other hand, resolves disputes in a confidential, private, and impartial manner, and we receive many enquiries every week from clients looking to do exactly that.
It is also for this reason that it continues to be so effective… just don’t expect real mediation to be on your TV screens any time soon!