Mediation as Part of an Intervention Network

Abridged version in English of the original


In family cases, the source of a fragmented institutional intervention is the scientific linear orthodoxy, a diversity of rules and regulation and a variety of protocols. In this framework, the different social bodies and practitioners have their own agenda that aims at part of the family system with no communicating vessels that enable to cast an all-encompassing meta-look to the concerned family.

This is a reflective paper on the mediation in the context of multi-issue families as a hub in a network of other approach methods. The analysis focuses on the arguments proposed by some theoretical and epistemological frameworks on which the aforementioned mentioned proposal is based on.


Keywords: Multi-issue Family, Second Class Mediation, Identity, Narrative, Multidisciplinary

This article outlines the theoretical framework that is the base of a mediator’s intervention in social issues that involve many institutional and practitioners as it is the case of multi-issue families.

As family mediators we have contributed to these experiences but disregarded the case’s non-mediability, which makes us be part of the effects creating structural crises and the social emergence of vulnerable and violated groups.

When interacting with families, institutions and/or acting practitioners consider the relevance of our mediation approach for the social support network to be ordered and coordinated, respecting the dynamic ecology of the family group, and avoiding the overlapping of unarticulated and fragmented practices.

Their contribution to the systemic concept of family and the respect of their construction process, without prejudice to the crises and dysfunctional interactions of their emergence, were useful to expand our field of action.

In our practice, we have respected the individuals in a family group, their identity and narrative transfer when they tell us their perception of reality itself and of the reality as perceived by the group that includes the other members. We have also respected the subjective interaction networks that create the family’s identity. But we have not stopped to give meaning to the absence or presence of the values in force in a «formal society» validating the sociocultural and national context of the individuals (for instance, the Bolivian community that lives in the Northern provinces in Argentina, etc.)

Soon after we started walking these new pathways in mediation we came to the realization of our strengths to see the concerned family and the institutions as a systemic network, and to see ourselves as a hub in this network that plays an integrating role.

This meta-look enabled us to articulate actions, coordinate interactions and monitor the impact of the process to help the concerned families.

We managed to get a spontaneous participation when we observed that the demand outnumbered the regular conflicts stemming from the breaking spouses or live-in partners (child custody, contacts with the non-domestic parent, financial support, emotional support, responsible parenting, etc.). Referred cases were returned to mediation after an intricate tour through many institutions as they sought efficient help.

Thanks to our contacts with the institutions, and legitimately upholding our strong link to families, a new kind of practice started to emerge that we called Second Class Mediation.

During the intervention process in numerous cases, the spontaneous demand was extended to the institutions themselves as they requested our participation in complex cases.

It is not possible to develop here the long list of cases our experience is based on. However, we might say that the theoretical framework that backs our experience (constructivist epistemology, circular communication, the theory of systems and the network concept) has been developed as a way to generate debate in the scientific community concerned by this matter.

To begin with, let’s reflect upon the individual that requests help at a mental health service not as an intervention object but as a historical subject that is the main character in his/her own current narrative that is emotionally communicated, who wants to be listened to from his/her own individual and interactional context.

In this regard, reality is inextricably linked to the individual who lives in it, as well as his ability to distinguish order and select certain characteristics of the outer world in a personal fashion (Nardi, 2001). This is an epistemological dimension of the knowledge constructed by and in the individual that does not come from external a priori meanings of science. Each individual has his epistemology. The external reality, translated by an expert in a segment of knowledge (doctor, lawyer psychologist, social worker, and mediator) invades the life meaning construction of the individual, imposing ways to walk through instead of accompanying him in a redefinition and reconstruction process of his reality and interactional environment reconstruction.

The systemic approach of integrated intervention we propose requires establishing a focal system (the family and the different effectors) that we call «the intervention system» (a whole inwards a relation and part of a whole outwards). Based on this perspective, we need to pay attention to the components or subsystems (child assistance, assistance to the mother, assistance to couples and to the family system they constitute) and, simultaneously, to the meaning-giving environment (context) in a coordinated fashion. This interesting contribution invites us to think about ourselves and the service requesting party from an individual and inter-systemic point of view creating, we insist, a «focal system» of intervention.

From this standpoint, the crisis of a multi-issue family crisis is based on a homeostatic, dysfunctional and destructive balance that does not allow for change to occur. Then, the assistance social system and external support come in. If the assistance social system joins the consulting system in an unarticulated and fragmented way the potential result is the certainty that change cannot be achieved, and the family and its members will be devastated and destructed. The institutional iatrogenesis is caused by the lack of integration in the intervention and the waste of resources without meeting the goals set.

Usually, under the pressure of excessive social demand that overspills the State resources, professional interventions tend to put an end to family issues with immediate shallow measures that ethically justify the closing of the case but that open up an uncertain future where the crisis can be deepened and a return to institutionalization occur, which is an expensive iatrogenic vicious circle. In this framework interaction is not frequent and each effector acts according to his agenda.

Packman (2005) recalls that Von Foerster calls «the lack of interaction between specialists in different fields social dysfunction». He indicates that the different specialists and institutions are involved in treating families and that they find themselves at a crossroads between systems, and that they operate with different languages, goals and methodologies. For this reason he finds that creating a «therapy of therapies» is useful. This is what the author calls «second class therapy», which we will call «second class mediation», i.e., when the mediator becomes a facilitator of dialogues between the different languages involved.

Two different languages are found when these «holistic» practitioners intervene (who face the problem as a whole and wonder what to do with it from a circular and complexity approach) and the «serialistic» practitioners (those who divide the problem in sections and fragment the family’s system casting cause and effect linear looks based on simplicity). In this regard, a «second class mediation» works with both sources that generate misunderstandings proposing more encompassing descriptions that include a settlement that gives way to a shared issue. Here, the role of the mediator is to accompany a complex process where the requesting family coexists when the different effectors that intervene in a family issue. In this complex dynamic the voice of each one changes through the voice of the others, avoiding the trend to monopolizing the intervention based on the personal structure and to denying the others’ views.

Following Packman’s thinking (2005, p. 84/95), we can say that the mediator will use the interaction casting his eyes on himself but transcending the limitations of his own look, through the look of the other members of the intervention network. Says the author: «It is in this dance of self-observations and measures by the others that patients, practitioners, supervisors and the wider social systems pertaining to the interaction in progress emerge as a self-ecologic organization, embodying this social system we will call family mediation. This responds to the theory of the observing systems or «second class cyber» where all observe all and where the construction of meaning for each one is valid in the intersubjective game, in the co-construction plan when seeking a change of narrative, and in a restructuring that leads to change in the consulting family system.

The mediator plays his role according to this way of knowing and constructing, thus avoiding the scientific trap of reducing the observations of the family group to a «general inclusive pattern». From this reductionism the pattern becomes a «cause» which makes the narrative of the consulting group to be an example of this general pattern, maintaining the homeostatic circle of the dysfunction.


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