• Dr. Andrew Kitchenham

Transformative Mediation Theory

Today I want to discuss another mediation theory that concentrates on the clients’ conflict interaction and assists them in improving that interaction. Originally developed by Bush and Folger in the early 1990s and further expanded upon by other mediation theorists, it has become an effective theory in mediation and has been updated in their seminal work, The promise of mediation: The transformative approach to conflict (Bush & Folger, 2005).


This post complements the discussion on facilitative mediation several weeks ago.

Bush and Folger conceptualized what mediation went which went against contemporary definitions at the time of the original proposed theory over 25 years ago. That is, mediation was the process in which a neutral third party (i.e., the mediator) works with at least two parties to reach a mutually agreed-upon and mutually-acceptable resolution for most of the disputed issues raised before and during the process. To be sure, most mediation processes, regardless of the model, still use this overarching definition of the mediation process and it continues to be the dominant approach in mediation training courses. In their conceptualization, mediation is a process in which a third party (note the absence of the adjective, neutral) works with at least two people in dispute to assist them in changing their conflict interaction from a negative and destructive process to one in which they are positive and constructive in their interactions with each other and unpack their own issues and reach possible resolution. Their graphic for the model presents a spirally-down effective that is negative, destructive, alienating, and demonizing with a feeling of weakness and self-absorption (i.e., conflict escalation) as the clients approach mediation and demonstrates that, through transformative mediation and its critical components of empowerment and recognition, the clients spiral up to become positive, constructive, connecting, and humanizing to obtain a strong and responsive relationship.


Additionally, they perceived what the role of the mediator as fundamentally different from what most theorists defined it. Traditional perceptions saw the mediator’s role assisting the clients in setting or adding to ground rules for the sessions, defining or reframing issues to be discussed, generating options through brainstorming, and bringing the parties to acceptance of agreement terms. Again, this role is still predominant in today’s perception of the mediator’s role. Bush and Folger re-defined that role to one in which the mediator helps their clients to surface their capacities for strength and responsiveness using the aforementioned interactional shifts which involves opportunities for deliberation, decision making, open communication, and taking each other’s perspectives. As they pointed out, “the mediator's primary goals are (1) to support empowerment shifts, by supporting—but never supplanting—each party's deliberation and decision-making at every point in the session where choices arise (regarding either process or outcome) and (2) to support recognition shifts by encouraging and supporting—but never forcing—each party's freely chosen efforts to achieve new understandings of the other's perspective” (Bush & Folger, 2005, p. 66).


Some other differences between transformative mediators and facilitative mediators (as the most-common approach) include: Advice and reaching agreement. The transformative mediator does not give advice since that would diminish the clients’ expertise and power and could give the perception that the mediator is biased towards one client over the other. The actual reaching of an agreement is secondary in transformative mediator as the emphasis is on the interactions between the clients for the better which may or may not result in a mutually-agreeable resolution. Strategies. The strategies used in transformative mediation are similar to those used in other mediation theories but they are applied differently based on the overarching principle that the mediator does not bring the clients to a resolution but is there to guide the interactions in the process. Common interventions in transformative mediation are highlighting reflections that are in line with the content and emotional tone of what the parties actually say; presenting tentative reflections that leave room for either party to correct; leveraging intentional silence so that each client has an uninterrupted to time to take to the other; using inclusive summaries after the client-to-client discussions that include important points raised by the clients; capturing their emotional tone, highlighting points of agreement and disagreement, including tangible and intangible points; “following the heat” so that key terms that are incendiary can be discussed; and, highlighting process choice points and checking on the parties’ agreements (pp. 223-224).


So, in summing up, transformative mediation, used primarily in divorce cases within family law, has been used effectively by trained mediators for well over 30 years. With its focus on moving from the destructive and negative to the constructive and positive for conflict interactions and acting as the guide on the side, transformative mediation allows the clients to come to a better way of understanding the conflict, gain more effective ways to deal with the conflict interaction, and places resolution in a place where it may or may not happen.

Further reading:


Bush, R. A. B. & Folger, J. P. (2005). The promise of mediation: The transformative approach to conflict. Jossey-Bass


#TransformativeMediation, #ConflictInteraction, #Communication, #MediationTheory

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