Last year, I wrote about two studies looking into the use of motivational interviewing in family mediation. The two summaries are presented together here. Motivational interviewing (MI) is a counseling technique designed to induce clients to change their behavior by exploring and resolving their ambivalence toward change. It has been found to be effective in a variety of contexts, including reducing aggression in intact couples.
An experiment in Australia found that when mediators used MI during the mediation, the parties were twice as likely to reach a full agreement. However, this technique does not reduce psychological distress, child adjustment problems or co-parental conflict. The study, undertaken by Megan Morris as part of her PhD thesis (Motivational Interviewing and Family Mediation: Outcomes for Separated Families, 2016 (see Chapter 4)), is the first to examine the use of MI in family mediation.
To determine the impact of MI on mediation outcomes, Morris randomly assigned 177 separated families to either the treatment group (n=94), in which the mediator used MI, or the control group (n=83), in which the mediator did not. The mediations were conducted over the phone and recorded and coded by multiple trained coders as to the integrity of the MI treatment. In all, 108 sessions were recorded, including 68 intake sessions and 40 joint sessions by 15 mediators. Eight of the mediators were randomly assigned to be trained in MI before the study; the other seven were offered training after the study was completed. Those trained prior to the study incorporated MI into their mediations during the study, while the other group continued to use their usual mediation techniques.
Recordings of intake interviews and joint sessions indicated that mediators trained in MI techniques ranked much higher on the MI Treatment Integrity Scale than those who were not, demonstrating that there was a difference in the services provided to the treatment and control groups. Parents in the treatment group were twice as likely to reach full agreement as those in the control group (33% v 16%) and less likely to reach no agreement (33% v 42%). There were no other statistically significant differences in satisfaction with the mediation, psychological distress or child adjustment.
Although the research was well-designed, it suffered from technical and logistical issues, including problems with recording equipment that significantly reduced the number of recorded sessions, and families who were accidentally provided the wrong service for at least one of their sessions. Further, there was a high attrition rate for the study: of those who agreed to participate, only 26% completed the post-mediation satisfaction surveys and psychological assessment instruments. This may have affected the research findings. In particular, the high attrition rate may have masked differences in outcomes that existed between the two groups, leading to the erroneous finding that there were no differences in the long-term outcomes (i.e., psychological distress and co-parental conflict).
Researchers at the University of Nebraska are also looking into combining mediation with MI. Their research, however, is looking at how to best train mediators to employ MI in family mediations. In an article in The Nebraska Lawyer (January/February 2017), they provide a primer on MI and how it can be used in mediation, then discuss the outcomes of their training research.
The researchers – Kristen M. Blankley, Lisa PytlikZillig and Kate Speck – are following eight mediators through the training process and into their practice post-training. The mediators completed self-efficacy surveys before starting training. They then participated in a follow-up discussion. The researchers are not just looking at change in skills and knowledge during training, but are gathering data on the mediators’ ability to use MI in their own mediation practice. Thus, after each mediation the mediators are also filling out reflection worksheets that are based on an assessment developed to improve MI proficiency. The research will also include two more follow-up discussions and another self-efficacy survey.
Through their research, Blankley, et al, have concluded that the most important things in MI training for mediators were:
- Clarify what the new strategies are. MI and mediation share a lot of skills and terminology, but there are important differences. The mediators initially didn’t understand what those differences were and thus how to change their practice.
- Be careful with terminology. MI and mediation can use different terms for the same concepts. This can be confusing. Either explain the differences or change the terminology to fit mediation.
- Demonstrate MI skills. The mediators benefitted greatly from a fishbowl in which an expert in MI demonstrated change talk and the mediators could discuss options for mediator responses.
- Address concerns about appearance of bias. This was a major concern of the mediators. They felt uncomfortable exploring change with one party while the other looked on. The mediators discussed strategies for managing appearance of bias, including the use of caucus.
What is apparent from this article is that the research is not only providing a template for future training, but it is also identifying strategies for incorporating MI into mediation. The article is only six pages and worth a read.