Since training is one of the hats I wear, I frequently get calls from people who say, “Do you offer training to become a certified mediator?” or “Do you offer mediator certification training?” I explain that I offer mediation training and upon completion attendees receive a certificate of attendance. This does not mean you are a certified mediator. The distinction may seem like semantics but this is a serious issue among professionals who have devoted their careers to becoming quality practitioners. In this post, I’d like to explain some of the important distinctions surrounding credentials for mediation.
Licensing, certification, and credentialing are major issues in many professions and mediation is no different. Professions are regulated by the states and each state has different requirements. As mediation has grown and come into its own as a recognized profession, certification has become even more important.
Completion of training programs indicates that a mediator has received some level of education or guidance from the sponsoring organization. In contrast, certification “indicates that an individual has met certain specified qualifications standards”, including education and training, and has been reviewed by other neutral professionals and demonstrated a certain level of competence according to standards set by courts, professional organizations, or other bodies. The Association for Conflict Resolution, one of the primary national mediation organizations, bases their credentialing on years of practice and number of cases mediated, as well as letters of reference and training hours.
Mediation is unregulated and unlicensed in Maryland. Anyone can claim to be a mediator whether trained or not. In Maryland, the courts do not require performance-based certification. However, mediators must meet certain requirements in order to receive Circuit Court cases. These requirements include experience and training in conflict resolution and mediation theory, mediation skills and techniques, mediator conduct, including ethics and confidentiality, and simulations and role-playing that have been “monitored and critiqued by experienced mediator trainers.” For family mediation, the courts require an additional 40 hours of training plus observations with court roster mediators.
Certification is a way of ensuring some quality assurance and competence. In the certification program of the Maryland Council for Dispute Resolution (MCDR),  mediators undergo a performance-based assessment of their skills. Mediators undergoing certification must demonstrate proficiency in nine different aspects of the mediation process through a live role-play mediation while two experienced assessors conduct a peer review. The MCDR’s program is unique because it requires the mediator to demonstrate real skills in a simulated role play experience. Certification is only awarded if both assessors grant a passing score of the mediator’s role-play performance.
Research from the International Mediation Institute reveals that there is an overwhelming demand for certified mediators. Over 90 percent of consumers who use mediation prefer to work with mediators who have been professionally certified. Mediation has been growing and flourishing over the last few decades, and such demand is a good indication of how mediation users view certified professionals. In the minds of consumers, certification conveys a level of trust, confidence, and quality that training credentials alone do not. As I discussed in a blog post last year, mediators handle many challenging cases and must be able to use all of their education and training in order to bring about resolution, especially in cases that involve multiple issues or clients with highly-charged emotions.
Certification is important for professionals and for consumers. “Mediation is both an art and a science. The process is deceptively simple and straightforward.” As a professional, performance-based certification allows the mediator to get critical feedback on their skills and mediator interventions. It’s a good professional development opportunity. For the consumer of mediation services, whether a party or counsel for a party, certification means that the mediator has a satisfactory level of competence.
For more information on mediator certification through the Maryland Council for Dispute Resolution, click here.
Ellen F. Kandell is a certified professional mediator and attorney with over 30 years of public and private sector experience. Ellen is certified by the International Mediation Institute. She became chair of MCDR’s certification committee this year. She provides mediation, group facilitation and training to diverse, national clients. Get in touch with her via email, LinkedIn, Twitter, or give her a call at 301-588-5390.
 Many mediators say they are certified by the courts. In most cases this actually means they have met the Court’s minimal training and experience requirements and are on a court panel allowing them to receive referrals for court-ordered mediation. It does not mean they have any level of competence.
 The Maryland Council for Dispute Resolution (MCDR) is one of the few credentialing entities in the entire country that certifies mediators based upon the mediator’s demonstrated performance. MCDR is the oldest mediation practitioner group in Maryland and has been certifying mediators for over 15 years. Over that period of time, MCDR has refined its certification process and it has been used by the circuit courts in Maryland to assess mediators.
 MCDR was one of the first organizations in the United States to establish performance-based criteria for mediators. Its program is considered a national model in the ongoing dialogue on quality assurance and mediator credentials. As a result, in 2011, MCDR’s certification process was approved by the International Mediation Institute’s Independent Standards Commission. So now MCDR certified mediators can be certified by the International Mediation Institute (IMI) as well. The IMI is a non-profit public interest initiative designed to drive transparency and high competency standards in the practice of mediation across all fields worldwide.
 The assessment aspect of the certification process is highly important. Assessors are certified mediators who have been through a 12-hour training on the assessment process, view videos of good and sub-par practice, and learn about delivering effective and meaningful feedback.