What is canine assisted mediation? the question may be more easily answered by asking why canine assisted mediation? David A. Paul wrote a fascinating article about Canine Assisted Mediation which highlights the research around the benefits of dogs.
Paul considers the well-documented psychological and physiological impacts of dogs on humans. These include:
Paul suggests the use of therapy dogs who are trained to work with people in pain and who are monitored to ensure that the dogs are not experiencing stress themselves. Rather than being responsible for the technical aspects of the process, the canine assistant would be present in the mediation to help parties to self-regulate and to improve the atmosphere in the mediation.
The presence of the canine assistant would allow parties the opportunity to increase their ability to regulate and self-soothe. In mediation, parties are sometimes so focused on their emotional reaction to the other party that they are unable to negotiate effectively. They may continue to argue about the past / blame rather than trying to problem solve the future. If dogs can help to calm parties this would be a significant benefit to the overall negotiation process.
He does caution that mediators and dogs need to be specially trained to participate in canine assisted mediation. Without doubt bringing any living creature into a conflict situation needs to be done sensitively and ethically. As a dog lover, I can see the promise of canine assisted mediation. Dogs have many lessons to teach us about negotiation and conflict.
Next week what can dogs teach us about negotiation?
The starting point for me to think about Hope was listening to a podcast on the BBC. For those not familiar with "In Our Time" hosted by Melvyn Bragg, you are in store for a treasury of information. Each podcast is on a different topic, historical, philosophical, psychological, religious or scientific. Melvyn guides his expert guests through a conversation. The podcast on Hope considered the historical and philosophical conception of hope. There is also additional reading for those who are extra keen!
Jean-Paul Sartre is not often associated with positivity or hope. However, you may be surprised by the quote below which is from his play, Bariona. In an article looking at Sartre through the lens of positive psychology, Quackenbush, Lockwood and Cyr argue that Sartre's philosophy may be summed up as: I have dispositions towards future action, but this can be altered.
You are suffering, and yet your duty is to hope
This can provide the bridge to hope from what has happened in the past (and gone wrong) and what can happen in the future (and could go right). In order to allow our 'disposition' (our nature) to change we need to be ready to let go of what has happened and allow ourselves to accept that we may even surprise ourselves with what comes next.
In family separation, people need containment for the chaos that may be unfolding for them and, hope to see a path forward. For many people, separation exposes them to a range of negative emotions which can strip them of a sense of agency and of their future. As a family mediator, it is typical to meet with people for whom trust, faith and shared futures are gone. People can remain mired in the past and blame, and this can lead to a sense of cynicism and a strong sense of disempowerment.
If there are children then it is in their best interests that their parents find a way to function effectively as co-parents. This can be extremely challenging at a time when parents wish to separate their lives, their duties as parents compel them to communicate and interact.
One way to help parents is through the concept of hope. Hope can provide the motivation for parties to try and choose a different path forward. Used appropriately hope can provide people with the ability to make an effort, to choose to move forward and to allow themselves to reimagine the future.
Some have seen hope as a negative as it can be deceptive and may encourage delusional expectations. This can be a risk in some cases, where co-operation is interpreted as providing hope for reconciliation. In family mediation, we need to ensure that hope is not creating ‘false’ hope.
Instead a family mediator can work with the parents to use hope as a transformative tool to enable them to move forward. J.R.R. Tolkein compared hope to a fairy-tale, however he also saw that hope has the virtue of allowing us to change and adapt. Without the hope of change and a better path forward many families would remain mired in conflict and negative intimacy. Hope remains a powerful tool in the mediator’s toolbox.
Are hope and despair two sides of the same coin? Michael Schreiner commented that they are two sides of the expectations coin. Both hope and despair are focused on a set of future and unknown circumstances. Schreiner describes them as an educated guess about what will happen. He argues that hope is despair in disguise as if it is not supported by circumstances then the coin will flip and it will be replaced with despair.
Hope can also be seen as delusional. It can be seen as a form of self-deception. Rather than facing up to the realities of a situation, hope may make someone ‘hope’ for the best. This line of thought argues that hope may prolong suffering as rather than take responsibility for making changes, someone may hope for the solution to appear. In addition, rather than accepting a negative reality they may deceive themselves.
Hope may be seen as preventing us from preparing for the worst. If we cling to hope rather than prepare and take action we may be overwhelmed when positive expectations are not met and negative realities occur. This is a special type of magical thinking. A belief that we do not need to anticipate or prepare for negative consequences as can just cling to hope that things will be better.
Hope can be seen as an abdication of our personal responsibility to solve problems for ourselves. If we hope that the ‘deus ex machina’ will arrive and save the day we may cease our own efforts. if we maintain a false hope that a solution will come we may cease to work on our own solutions.
Whilst I acknowledge these challenges, I reject these characterisations. From my perspective, hope is an attempt to navigate an unknown future. I applaud the parties in mediation who have the courage to hope that they can make a better reality than the one they have inhabited. Without doubt it takes courage to choose hope when bitterness and disillusionment beckon from the present and the past. As a problem solver I am interested in what works. Does it help for parties to despair? Does it help for them to remain mired in blame?
In mediation, I see people who have no reason to trust, deciding to make that leap so that they can motivate themselves to move forward. Choosing hope is an acknowledgement that the alternative to hope is a never-ending battle. It is a defiant statement that empowers people to create structures and plans for tomorrow.
For the next few weeks, I will focus on different aspects of Hope. From my perspective as a mediator:
In life we can be faced with what seems like an impossible task, however, our brains reveal that we do such impossible things as a matter of course. When in conflict, people can feel that working with “the other side” in future is an impossibility. “How can I forget ‘X’?” However, we have evolved to hold two contradictory ideas in our head at the same time.
When we see an optical illusion our visual processing behaves as it is designed to and believes the trick (the Müller-Lyer Illusion). Our eyes tell us that the parallel lines are of different lengths.
When the basis of the illusion is explained to us, our conscious, rational mind can comprehend the underlying reason for our eyes being deceived. We interpret the visual information on the basis of our previous experience. With the rational understanding that the lines are of equal length we can look again at the illusion.
However, when we return to the illusion, we experience the dissonance of experiencing the illusion again and at the same time we know that we are being tricked. We are able to hold the contradiction between the illusion and the reality in our mind simultaneously.
In the same way, parties locked in a dispute may struggle with their ability to:
The truth is our brains are equipped to hold such contradictory ideas in place at the same time. Doing so enables us to move forward with people even when we feel this should be impossible. Whether this requires us to try and co-parent or run a business together, the challenge is real, however, the feeling of impossibility is an illusion.
I have been reading and enjoying “Healing from Infidelity” by Michele Weiner-Davis. Whilst not everyone will experience infidelity in their marriage, Weiner Davis provides valuable tools which anyone can use to address adversity. Over the next few weeks, I will reflect on some of the lessons anyone facing difficulties can use to improve their situation.
Let your hopes, not your hurts shape your future
This quote is from Robert Schuller. When disappointment, loss or betrayal occur, we can focus on what has happened. Excessive rumination on negative emotions associated with the event can prevent healing and responsibility. Instead, we replay the hurts and blame. Whilst it is necessary to process negative events; it is also necessary to move on from them. As Schuller suggests we should not define ourselves by the wrongs we have suffered, instead we should allow our dreams to define our lives. How can this be done practically? Weiner-Davis suggests we can help ourselves by being specific. How does this work?
Moving from the vague to the specific helps to chart a course. Making positive statements to feel better is helpful as a general direction, and this needs to be supported with specific actions that we design and take responsibility for to create improvements.
The zinger leaves our lips and zooms towards the recipient. As the words leave our mouth there may be an instantaneous moment of regret, or it may be that later that day you take a moment to wince at what you said. For most people this is a recognisable experience, the feeling that you have said something in the heat of the moment which was ill-advised or hurtful or destructive. When we are frustrated and angry is reacting without thought inevitable?
Conflict coaching aims to provide skills for people in how to respond in conflict situations rather than react. Riskin and Wohl have identified Six Obstacles that we encounter when we are in conflict.
If these are the obstacles what do Riskin and Wohl recommend? They advocate for the use of mindfulness training to provide space and time for reflective responses. In essence they suggest making use of mindfulness techniques to take a step back from the situation, assess what is happening and your response and then refocus attention.
By assessing our bodily sensations (e.g. increased heart rate, faster and shallower breathing), our emotional response (e.g. anger, frustration, disappointment) and our thoughts (e.g. what are you noticing? Where is your attention?) we can determine, what is happening for us in conflict situations. Just the act of slowing down from delivering a reaction to give time to assess and consider how we are feeling can make a significant difference to how we respond. Next time you encounter conflict, take a moment to assess and consider how you may frame a response rather than reacting.