As a mediator who specializes in elder/family mediation, I frequently get asked to compare family mediation and family therapy. Usually a family member tells me that the mediation process sounds like therapy. While the two processes share certain elements, they are completely different.
MedicineNet.com gives the following definition of family therapy , “Family therapy: A type of psychotherapy designed to identify family patterns that contribute to a behavior disorder or mental illness and help family members break those habits. Family therapy involves discussion and problem-solving sessions with the family. Some of these sessions may be as a group, in couples, or one on one. In family therapy, the web of interpersonal relationships is examined and, ideally, communication is strengthened within the family.”
On the other hand, family mediation is about resolving a dispute. It is about family members finding a way in which they can reach a mutually agreeable resolution to a dispute. The dispute can be about the care of an elderly family member or the sale of the family summer home. Family mediation does not dwell on family dynamics, the role each family member plays in the family or family history. Moreover, unlike family therapy, family mediation is a shorter process. Families come together for only a few hours in order to find a resolution.
Family mediation and therapy do share some elements. Both are about communication and they both provide a safe environment where family members can engage in open and honest discussions. Family therapy and mediation also have a common benefit of improving family relationships and the way families handle future conflict.
Although family therapy and family mediation appear to be similar because they both involve families and the way families communicate, the orientation of each process is significantly different. Families need to be cognizant of these differences in order to select the process that can best address and meet their family needs.