PS1 Morphs into Family Dispute Resolution – 1

Jones family, Pentre Trewyn (1878)In Australia FDR–1 (family dispute resolution for one) has morphed from PS-1 according to John Cleary.  Cleary is a family mediator with over 3000 hours of client mediation from Brisbane.  He’s also a former student of mine, who adapted PS-1 to fit his needs.  Key to effective use of FDR-1 begins with an appropriate triage of the presenting parties. Cleary explains, “…I developed a five choice instrument where I asked clients to tick what they wanted for the session:

  1. I have tried to mediate but without result. Where to now? What else can I do?
  2. I am going to mediate and want to prepare myself to maximise the opportunity
  3. The other parent will not agree to mediate. Where to now? What else can I do?
  4. I have problems and issues with the mediation that I attended.
  5. Something else, not in the list above. “

He had “…expected many clients would tick #4 because the creation of Section 60(I) certificates by the Australian Attorney General’s Department in the Family law Act, 2006, requiring such a certificate to be given before most people could approach the Family Court about parenting matters meant that there was a lot of confusion and misunderstanding about the process.” Number four was rarely selected, instead number one, two and three proved most popular. The most commonly used skills according to Cleary include:

  1. coaching clients to understand how a mediator might view conflict,
  2. how a mediator operates in mediation,
  3. what facilitative mediation depends on from participants,
  4. how basic skills of mediation such as interest based statements and thinking could be applied,
  5. how reframing works,
  6. how future focus unlocks possibilities, and
  7. how the prospect of peace breaking out can be a worthwhile ambition in the face of pain.

In an anonymous case study John illustrates the power of FDR-1.

A grandmother approached and contracted for FDR-1. At first she seemed to be one of many grandparents who thirst to see more of their grandchildren when family relations have become strained through separation or re-location. This grandmother was running the risk of being charged with stalking and trespass as she drove a long distance to the coast ‘just to see her two grandsons in the school playgrounds’. Her son warned her that he would seek to raise a domestic violence order against her if she was seen near the boys’ school again; a sad and not uncommon scenario. Sobbingly she spoke of her wish, rebuffed, to mediate with her son about contact with her grandchildren. In the triage she ticked the boxes indicating ‘Where to from here? The other party cannot/ will not participate in FDR at this time’ and ‘How can I enhance the opportunity to make agreements/ get cooperation from the other?’ We began by tracking the narrative of recent events to locate who should be mediating (or something like it) with whom? I asked her about her grandsons. In this one-to-one private session where confidence was assured and truth telling was agreed, it quickly emerged that the boys didn’t like their grandmother and it was mutual! They threw things at her car when they came out of school and spotted her. She commented that they were both cheeky and unpleasant proto teenagers. I asked her then who was her dilemma with and it emerged that her only son had married a woman, and was still married to the woman, whom she didn’t like and never had. I asked her what kind of meeting she might envisage in the future between her son and his wife, thinking ‘maybe a family conference’? It emerged that she thought dealing with her son and daughter-in-law would be a lost cause. She conceded that her son would always side with his wife against her and that this was not really a surprise because he had always been a disappointment to her and her husband. I asked her about her husband.  In a flood of tears she declared that their relationship had been a hollow shell of pretense for decades, even before her son left home.  This brave client undertook an analysis that asked what the present situation was actually about, who the participants were, what the past history actually was, where the projections led (a referral to counseling in part came out of this) underneath the broadly known and also the more privately known and barely known presenting issues. As we searched together for what was really driving her to mediation, she found the unconscious driver sitting beneath the known facts and the explicit, known drivers:

  1. fear of losing her identity because her family was largely non functioning,
  2. fear of losing her security because divorce or separation from her husband was increasingly on her mind and
  3. fear of losing recognition and a sense of belonging because she was so lonely and was engaged in furious pursuits, even dangerous ones, because she felt engaged and socially included even if it meant joining the pool of ‘wronged grandparents’.

We finished exhausted but relieved after two hours. The client’s candor in the FDR-1 setting established that her conflict was largely intrapersonal and grew out of her increasingly less productive attempts to satisfy deep-rooted human needs. She took away the idea of seeking therapy for herself and was cured of mediating meaninglessly.

Encouragingly, John says he “…found that the most common sentiment … shared in the room was optimism and hope in the prospect of mediation or a similar conflict resolution offering working productively for the client.”

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