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Mediation or family therapy? Which to choose?

Mediation or family therapy? Which to choose?

August 10, 2022

Throughout the evolutionary cycle of a couple or a family, one inevitably goes through multiple phases or situations in which, due to different factors (previous family peculiarities, supervening situations or, simply, by the management of daily life where there is make important decisions), its members have to face or adapt to these new realities that they have to live. The optimal management of these situations favors the growth of the family , but in other occasions the generated crises can cause difficulties and conflicts of diverse nature.

For these problems, the interventions that have proved most suitable and efficient are family therapy and family mediation , depending on what is required, shorter and more specific interventions or longer and longer ones.

  • Related article: "The 8 types of family conflicts and how to manage them"

Family therapy and mediation: differences and similarities to choose well

Although these two ways of working with families have their own objectives and ways of proceeding, in many cases the distinction between them is not clear. In order to clarify the fields of action of one or the other approach, we are going to talk, even if very generically (with the risk of the simplification that this implies) of its main characteristics and differences, which can help determine what the alternative would be. most suitable intervention according to each family and their needs.

Family therapy

The fundamental objectives of family therapy are the evaluation, accompaniment, guidance and psychological treatment of any problem or clinical symptomatology presented by the family understood as a whole. Although there is a specific symptom or demand that, of course, is addressed, the psychotherapeutic intervention is more broadly considered, encompassing the dynamics and relational patterns of its members, in relation to the problem and, usually, in connection with the history and biography of its members .

The temporal focus in psychotherapy is placed on the present, but in connection with the past: past histories and experiences are explored, understanding that the past is fundamental to understanding what is happening to them at the present time. In this sense, it is intended to understand and resolve underlying or not evident conflicts at first glance by the family dynamics itself.

Psychotherapy, therefore, has as a general objective to accompany and promote deeper and structural changes that allow the family to acquire greater coping resources both in times of crisis caused by the passage from one stage to another in the family cycle, as well as address and resolve underlying psychological or emotional conflicts . For these reasons, the duration is usually much longer than mediation, since it can be reduced to a few sessions.

Family mediation

Unlike psychotherapy, family mediation does not focus on psychological treatment, but on the management and resolution of specific and well-defined conflicts (for example, in a divorce, custody and custody of children). In the event that major background problems are detected, mediation would not be the appropriate approach, unless the intervention is very circumscribed to a specific objective and always as a complement to a therapy as a general framework.

The temporal focus on family mediation is placed in the present and, above all, in the future: attention is placed, preferably, on manifest conflicts and on concrete and practical aspects such as, for example, making decisions regarding custody or visitation of children .

Mediation consists, therefore, in a process of cooperative resolution of conflicts, in which the parties involved are encouraged to communicate in an appropriate manner and arrive at the agreements that they consider most appropriate according to their mutual needs.

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The neutral attitude as a professional requirement

The family therapist, as the mediator, adopts a neutral attitude towards family members although it is usually more directive in the sense that it evaluates, guides, advises, offers indications, proposes actions, etc., always with the purpose of favoring or causing the change of dysfunctional dynamics and deeper and more general relational patterns.

The family mediator, on the other hand, adopts a less directive role and facilitates communication (through the use of micro communication techniques), which helps the participants to reflect on their conflicts and disagreements, to encourage the creative search for alternatives possible, which allows them to make decisions and reach mutual agreements that they consider most appropriate according to their needs and interests.

The decisions that people can reach freely and voluntarily occur in a context of security and confidentiality , free of any kind of coercion or reciprocal pressure and without the meter directing them in any way: it is the interested parties themselves who have to arrive, if they consider it, to the agreements that they consider. The mediator neither values ​​nor offers solutions to their problems.

Although one of the fundamental objectives of family mediation is that people reach agreements to resolve their conflicts, in many cases, the most important thing is not so much the agreement itself, as generating the different and healthier relational space, as well as offer resources for the management of their conflicts, having a clear preventive component.

The legal aspects

When conflicts can have legal consequences (As, for example, in a divorce, with the consequent dissolution of the community of acquisitions or disagreements in relation to the custody of minor children), mediation becomes the most convenient method to resolve these issues.

Following the Law 5/2012, of July 6, mediation in civil and commercial matters, through mediation it is possible to reach agreements that, respecting the current regulations, can later be transformed into a legal document to give it legal character . For this, it is always convenient that the parties are at all times advised independently by their respective lawyers , before getting to formalize the agreement that will end up having legal effects.

A combination that works

As we can see, depending on the needs, one or the other approach will be the most appropriate, although, of course, they can also be complementary to offer comprehensive care to families and couples. For this, it is necessary that professionals are trained in both disciplines.

Diego Albarracín Garrido: Psychologist, family therapist, couple therapist and mediator at El Prado Psychologists.

Orientation to Family Court Mediation and Child Custody Recommending Counseling (August 2022).

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