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Counseling vs. Mediation

Counseling and mediation are both valuable ways resolve conflict, and in some cases, can even complement each other when used in combination. Understanding the difference between the two processes can help you determine which approach would best resolve the specific issues you are facing.

Counseling is an open-ended process that focuses on digging into the past causes of current problems, and can take months or years to effect change. Mediation focuses on quickly resolving a current problem, with a goal of improving the future. Many people come to Sharon Dolak for mediation after counseling does not achieve a quick resolution to their conflict.

Mediation is a rapid approach focused on identifying where each party stands; why they feel the way they do; and most importantly, how they can reach a resolution together. Mediation’s goal is to find practical ways to make positive changes that everyone can agree on, so that participants get immediate help. Once a resolution is agreed upon, the process is complete, and the parties can move on.

Counseling and mediation differ in a few other important ways:

Impartiality. A mediator is highly trained in the art of impartial facilitation. Her role is simply to guide participants through a calm, focused conversation, ensuring that each party has their say and understands the other’s stance. In counseling, the focus is on emotions, which can emphasize feelings of hurt, frustration, and defensiveness.

Process. Mediation is a process that follows a series of steps, which allows participants and the mediator to measure their progress toward resolution. Counseling tends to be unstructured, which is one reason why it can take a long time to resolve a specific issue.

Focus on resolution. While counseling’s end goal is to help people through conflict, it rarely results in a written, formal document stating the results. Mediation allows for closure because it has a set end point that allows each party to walk away with a written agreement detailing next steps.

Cost. Because mediation is a short-term process with rapid results, it is typically far less expensive than counseling or litigation.

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