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Conflict Resolution and Mediation in Counseling


[Marian Eberly (MSW, LCSW, RN, PhD – candidate) is a licensed clinical social worker and registered nurse with nearly 30 years in the healthcare field. She has a counseling practice inPhoenix,Arizona, uniquely incorporating her many years of healthcare experience in the care of the whole person. She is the co-author of The Christian Handbook of Eating Disorders, a frequent conference speaker and certified in Christian Mediation for churches and families. She is our blogger for the month of November, and this is her first post.]

Conflict is one of the primary problems that bring many to counseling. Christians are instructed to be reconciled one to another when disputes of any nature arise between them (Matthew5:21-24; 6:9-15;18:15-20). But reconciliation is more easily spoken of than done. I have discovered as a therapist, it helps to have a well designed conflict resolution strategy or structure in helping disputants in any type of conflict. Christ centered mediation skills have been foundational in this regard.

The Christian mediation process offers a faith based approach for resolving disputes using Biblical principles, prayer, discernment and creative problem solving. It is a viable approach for resolving a wide variety of conflicts. Counselors and pastors may appreciate utilizing a conflict resolution strategy in marriage and family work.

Mediation has experienced rapid growth in theUnited Statesin the last thirty years. Ironically, few Christian counselors have had formal training in dispute resolution specifically. Counselors become burned out and discouraged with conflict issues in the therapy setting without an effective tool for conflict resolution work. Most of the people I see in counseling initially report a conflict in a relationship, some are to the point of crises, but all want relief and some want restoration. Having skills and tools at hand are not optional, they are essential.

The Christian mediation process also provides a non adversarial approach to openly communicate and assist in structuring equitable solutions in a private and confidential manner.

Briefly, I mention here a few of the mediation skills I have found to be most effective. In mediation, as well as counseling, safety is crucial. Boundaries for confidentiality are discussed and agreed to at the outset. Beyond setting up boundaries, conflict is discussed as incompatibility on an issue. This opens the door to a discussion about change…and how the process of change itself often leads to conflict. Jesus’ brief life here on earth brought much necessary conflict and essential change.

Lewin (1947) described the concept of \”unfreezing\” as \”our desire to do things as we have been doing them is incompatible with the desired or necessary future state\”. Unfreezing offers a new schema, creating an openness to something new and something different. This \”ice cube stage\” requires time, patience and a will to reach goals for positive growth, transition and healing. Establishing an awareness of the positions each has, as well as an opportunity for each to explain individual interests, follows as integral steps in the process of resolving conflict. Prioritizing the spoken needs is often followed with a brainstorming session as the negotiation process unfolds.

Negotiating for change will usually if not always involve some level of resistance. The degree of resistance will have an impact on the ease of unfreezing. Handling resistance involves keeping as many parts of the system as stable as possible, giving a voice to the concerns of others and making sure they know they are cared for in the process of change. Marcus, in the Handbook of Conflict Resolution (2006, p. 438) remarks \”resistance is the mobilization of energy to protect the status quo in the face of a real or perceived threat\”. Counselors successfully negotiate for change when an opportunity is given to express fears and  discuss the grief and loss that may be inevitable in the negotiating process.


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