How Is Mediation Different From Therapy?

How Is Mediation Different From Therapy? by Susan Ingram

{3:24 minutes to read}

Both mediators and therapists play important roles in helping couples who are experiencing difficulties in their marriage. When couples come to me for divorce mediation, I find that at least half of them have spent time, recently or in the past, working together with a therapist to try to save their marriage. I certainly view this as a positive sign. At least the couple has tried to work through the issues in their marriage, even if it didn’t ultimately work out.

On my intake form, which each individual completes, I ask clients if in the past (or even currently) they’ve seen a marital or couples therapist with their spouse. This information can help me to understand where they are as a couple in coming to terms with the end of their marriage.

But let’s get back to the initial question I posed in my title – How is mediation different from therapy?


As a divorce mediator, my role is to guide couples as they define the necessary agreements for their future lives apart. I am not treating my clients’ psychological issues or trying to help them resolve the difficult problems related to their past relationship. That doesn’t mean that I am not empathetic to their situation; the best mediators are. At the same time, we bring a strong sense of practicality to our work. We help our clients “get the work done” so that they can move on constructively with their separate lives.


Therapists, on the other hand, do treat their clients’ psychological issues. A couples therapist will work with both spouses to help them understand the dynamics of their relationship in the past and present. Then, if the couple is willing, the therapist will support them in making positive changes to their relationship in the hope that they will have a more satisfying life together.

While both professions are different, there is a complementary nature to the work of divorce mediators and therapists (and here I include therapists who work with couples as well as those who work with individuals). Both categories of professionals share a common bond of caring deeply about our clients and wanting to be of service to them during very trying times.

As a divorce mediator, I am tremendously appreciative of the meaningful role therapists play in helping my clients, whether their work occurs before my clients come to mediation or after they have started. And judging by the comments I’ve received from therapists, they greatly value the constructive and supportive nature of the work we mediators do. That sounds like a “perfect match” of professionals who are working hard, in different yet complementary ways, to support our clients!

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