Posted on: April 17th, 2023
By UK Mediation CEO and Founder, Dr Mike Talbot
Us psychotherapists work with a number of different ‘orientations’, as we call it. You may have heard of the person-centred approach, existential psychotherapy, or gestalt: these are all examples of the humanistic approach to psychotherapy or counselling.
People who work with this kind of an orientation would generally share certain characteristics in their work:
Trusting that, whatever level of confusion or self-doubt an individual is experiencing, given the right supportive environment their tendency will always be to gain more clarity and confidence
Believing that people are the best experts on themselves: that deep down we all know what we need, and with the right kind of input we can tap into our self-determination and our capacity to become more self-fulfilled
Some years ago, moving from psychotherapy into mediation, I took on the challenge of trying to bring this kind of ethos into mediation, specifically into interpersonal mediation. What this meant was essentially going from being a humanistic therapist (gestalt, in my case) to being a humanistic mediator. The humanistic mediator carries the above ideas into a mediation process in which parties are trusted to arrive at their own solutions and will inherently be inclined to improve their dialogue and relationship with the other person if the mediator skilfully sets up the right conditions for this to happen.
I go into specifics a little more in part 2 (coming soon), but here I would just like to illuminate this kind of approach by making a contrast with the more settlement-focussed and technique driven approach. This latter approach, much preferred by legal practitioners and ‘civil’ mediators, tends to be used in a problem-solving way in commercial disputes where an agreement is needed about an amount of money and/or an exchange of something of material value.
What happens in this approach is:
Improving the interpersonal dialogue or relationship takes second place to getting a settlement figure agreed
Negotiations are largely done through the practitioner, usually in separate, private sessions, and often with parties’ advisers present
The practitioner will often influence the outcome either by challenging people’s positions, and by providing their own evaluation or some (usually ‘whispered’) legal opinion
So, the two approaches are quite different, and of course the humanistic approach does not suit all varieties of disputes and neither does it sit well with all practitioners. In the second part of this piece, I will expand on this point, as well as saying more about what working in a humanistic manner actually means in practice.