Graduate Interviews

 

We had the opportunity to sit down with two of our Program Graduates, one who recently went through the Divorce Mediation Training Program and one who attended one of our very first Program sessions, to discuss their journey from Divorce

Mediation Training to successful divorce mediation practice.

 

We hope you enjoy their stories!

 

 

 

Graduate Name: Lisa Gray

Training Session: San Francisco, CA June 2016

Mediation Practice: Lisa Gray MFT Inc.

Location: Livermore, CA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q. How long ago did you take the training?

 

A. I took it one year ago in San Francisco.

 

Q. How long after taking the class did you start taking clients?

 

A. It wasn’t too long after the class but I had to get a desk in my second office and I wanted to update my website and do a little bit or marketing, so maybe a month after the training was my first.

 

Q. Did you add divorce mediation to an existing business or as a new business?

 

A. I have a private practice and I have an intern office and so I just made that into a mediation office and then we acquired a third office to be an intern office. So we switched around our office space a little bit to accommodate it.

 

Q. What was the process of adding Divorce Mediation to an existing practice like?

 

A. For most therapists, our offices don’t have a desk. So I had to get an appropriate desk area, which I think you could do in the therapy office, but I just had a separate office available too so I made a separate space. It’s necessary for most therapists to get a table or a desk.

 

Q. How did you start getting clients?

 

A. I did some marketing to other therapists in the area. And it wasn’t too bad. I do mostly couples work and I know a lot of couples therapists so it naturally kind of dovetails with the colleagues that I already work with for marketing.

 

Q. And how specifically did you market your services?

 

A. Since I can’t mediate with my own clients and I’m a couples therapist, I wrote a list of every couples therapist that I know, which was about 20 or 30 people, and I decided that I would take one of them out to lunch every week. I feel like if you sit down with someone and you can explain why this is a good referral, why this is a good method, they would be more likely to refer.

 

So my method was, I made a list of all the therapists that I personally know, even if it’s just a little bit, and I took them out for coffee and actually had a personal conversation with them and gave them a stack of business cards and started getting referrals that way.

 

Q. Where do the majority of your clients come from? Are they all referrals?

 

A. Yes and I put a Yelp listing up. Not a paid listing–I kind of refined my Yelp listing to be more geared towards mediation. And I get a lot of clients through Yelp. A lot of people use it. So from other therapists and Yelp.

 

Q. How did the course prepare you to start this new practice area?

 

A. The thing that this course prepared me for specifically, I think the biggest thing was confidence. That I could sit down with a couple and that I could–even with my very first client–act like I’ve been doing this for 10 years. With the very first couple, I had the confidence to go through my outline and know that I was hitting all the targets. And that I could write a Memorandum of Understanding that was going to cover everything that they needed.

 

Q. How would you describe the overall experience of being a divorce mediator?

 

A. It’s very different from being a therapist is the first thing that I would say. In therapy, if I’m doing a good job my clients leave happy, so I try to tell my clients in mediation–at the outset–a good mediation is not about winning. If you walk out at the end and you feel like “Yay!” that’s probably not a good mediation; because fair and equitable in a divorce should honestly not feel all that great. So I think it takes some getting used to that people don’t really like the process, so sometimes they don’t particularly like you. But I feel like I’m good at it. But you don’t always get that feedback from your clients the same way that you do in therapy. So you just have to kind of get used to that.

 

Q. What do you enjoy about the work?

 

A. I think that being a therapist is really helpful for people because I enjoy helping them recognize that some of the things they are fighting about have an emotional component and kind of helping them back off from gripping so tightly. Which is where I think therapy mediators will shine. I really like being able to help [my clients] on multiple levels like that. It’s really cool being able to meet them on multiple levels in a mediation setting as a mental health mediator. So I enjoy that part of it.

 

Q. What don’t you enjoy about the work?

 

A. There’s a lot of number crunching, which I don’t particularly like, I don’t even do my household bills, so I wasn’t necessarily prepared for that part. At this point I use a software to prepare for that piece. I use family law software. You can do ten different scenarios for property division, so you enter in all their assets and then you can play around with all the division and while you’re playing around it can show them all the scenarios. It’s a monthly cost but worth it for me–not being a numbers person.

 

Q. Any advice to graduates on getting started?

 

A. I would just say be confident in what you have to offer. I’m not an attorney mediator but my clients are 100 percent satisfied with what they get from my services, so there is no reason to be intimidated by the traditional mediation community’s raised eyebrows. I think this course completely prepares you to do this work. Charge the fee that the other mediators in the community are charging, be confident that you can give a good quality product, and just get out there and do it.

 

I refer a lot to an attorney mediator that’s local. She and I refer back and forth. We did a presentation together and at that presentation she heard me say that my fee was $300 per hour and afterwards she said she was really glad to hear me say that. She was happy to see that I was charging almost the same as her because if she refers to me she doesn’t want people to think that I have subpar services. Don’t be afraid to charge what the attorney mediators are charging because they need to know that you are doing just as good of a job as they are. She’ll refer to me specific cases that have emotional content that she doesn’t feel comfortable with. I’ll refer to her cases with complex legal issues that I might not feel comfortable with. We refer back and forth all the time.

 

Q. So you are able to charge rates competitive with other mediators in your area?

 

A. Yes. I’m charging $300.00 an hour.

 

Q. Do you feel like you have been able to generate a satisfactory, additional stream of income from the mediation work?

 

A. Yes. I have probably 2 to 3 mediation clients a week in addition to my regular counseling caseload. So for me that’s perfect because I just work part time anyways.

 

Q. Are you willing to speak to potential students interested in the course?

 

A. Sure, be happy to.

 

Q. Any interesting mediation anecdotes you’d like to share?

 

A. So one of the stories was this guy moved out and he didn’t take any of the household items but he bought all new furniture and he wanted [his wife] to pay for half of what [the furniture] cost because he wouldn’t have had to buy new if he didn’t have to move out.

 

So I’m trying to negotiate this issue–telling her, “you have this whole house of furniture that he didn’t take”. She’s like, “but it’s all old and tattered and he got brand new furniture”. Finally, as a mental health mediator, I was able to point out why this was so difficult was because it was emotional. He got brand new furniture, he left her with tattered furniture, and now he wants her to pay for brand new furniture. When I was able to point out how emotional that was, they both stopped and stared at me like deer in the headlights. And then he said, “why don’t I take the wine collection?” And she said, “fine” and they were done.

 

They were talking about the money expended but really she couldn’t give in because of the emotional issue. So she just made a trade about something else that equalized the money and bypassed the emotion. So that’s the sort of thing where I think mental health mediators can do a great job because we can see that that’s just about [emotion and that] they’re not really talking about furniture.

 

Q. Anything else you would like to add?

 

A. This has been a really awesome adventure and I’ve really enjoyed it. Super glad that I took the class. Took me awhile to settle in because it’s really different from therapy but I’m really enjoying the diversification.

 

 

 

 

Graduate Name: Leslie Briggs

Training Session: Worcester, MA August 2010

Mediation Practice: Leslie Briggs LICSW

Office for Counseling and Divorce Mediation

Location: Shrewsbury, MA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q. How long ago did you take the training?

 

A. Almost seven years ago.

 

Q. Did you add divorce mediation to an existing practice or as a stand alone business?

 

A. Interestingly, I changed not only taking on clients but I changed my whole practice. I took the class in July or August, I believe, and by October I had left a group practice and set up a private practice because I wanted to do mediation as well as counseling. I wanted my own space. I wanted a space that was a little bit different than just a counseling office. My office now is very professional. It is suitable for not just counseling but also mediation. And that was a wonderful move for me.

 

Q. How long after taking the class did you start taking clients?

 

A. By October I had my first mediation client.

 

Q. How did you start getting clients?

 

A. Basically, I have a long history of working in the central MA area. I've been a therapist, I’ve worked at a number of insurance companies, so I had a number of connections in the area. Although I do all kinds of therapy, I have advanced training doing couples work, so a lot of my practice was couples work. People refer couples to me–people who don’t want to see couples.

 

Q. How did you market your services?

 

A. I sent out a letter to my network of friends and other therapists saying I had taken the training and they could refer clients to me.

 

Q. How many letters did you send out?

 

A. Not more than 20 letters. And some of them were just emails to my friends and network and community of people who were therapists. That is basically where I have gotten 90% of my referrals, [from] other therapists. Networking has been primarily where my referrals have come from.

 

I‘ve been doing this long enough that I’m now getting referrals from people who said, “You did this for my friend and her husband.” So I’ve been doing this long enough that I’m now getting referrals from other clients because it’s been seven years.

 

Q. Have you ever advertised?

 

A. I have never advertised, I have never had to. I have a brochure that I made up years ago that talks about my therapy business and mediation and I put those around in different places. I did that through Vista Print, cheap and easy to make. I may or may not get referrals from those, I don’t know.

 

Early on there were a few of us who had taken Susan’s training, and we held an informational meeting. There were three of us. We did this presentation at a local community center, where the town came in and filmed it. We did get some response from that–client referrals–that was the only time I did anything like that.

 

Q. Are you able to charge rates competitive with other mediators in your area?

 

A. I don’t know what others charge, I charge $250/hour for the mediation sessions and $500 for the memorandum. And it has not been a problem. And I’m comfortable with that.

 

Q. Do you feel like you have been able to generate a satisfactory, additional stream of income from the mediation work?

 

A. Absolutely. I have two going right now now. For me, two is great. That’s four for this year so far and it’s not quite June so this is great for me. Over the years, I probably average between 7 and 10 a year, which is not a lot but is good, it’s a nice addition to my practice. And I think if I advertised I would have more.

 

Q. Shifting gears to the training, how did the course prepare you to start in this new practice area?

 

A. Again, I’m a couples therapist, so I felt very comfortable dealing with the issues, but I didn’t know the legalities of it. Susan’s course was very thorough. Her preparing was comprehensive. She helped me understand and recognize the, how can I say it, the necessary things that have to be fully addressed for a couple to move their way through a divorce in a logical way. Susan provided a lot of resources. I bought the workbook, the other thing that was very helpful. It’s so straightforward and [provides] good examples of what I need to do.

 

The one thing I haven’t developed much of, but haven’t felt a need for, was to have lawyers review the memorandum before I have people take things into court. I’ve never had a problem in the 7 years I’ve been doing it with [clients] not having what they need.

 

Q. How would you describe the overall experience of being a divorce mediator?

 

A. Oh it’s fun! I really like it. Again, I’m a couples therapist, I like dealing with couples situations. I like helping people figure out how to make life different and better, and sometimes that includes divorce! And, of course, it’s much more reasonable for folks when they do a mediation. Most of my clients are middle class folks; I’ve dealt with a couple clients who have a lot of money, a lot of resources, a lot of assets; and I’ve dealt with folks who barely have two nickels to rub together. I really enjoy doing the mediations.

 

There is emotional divorce and there’s legal divorce. If I’m your therapist I’m going to help you [with the emotional part]. But as your mediator I’m going to help you with [with the legal part], with a little bit of information from the therapist side.

 

Q. What do you enjoy about the work?

 

A. I really feel like I’m helping people get through a very difficult time in their lives in a way that’s helping them get through in a reasonable, amicable way through a really difficult part of life. I’m a therapist, of course I like that.

 

Q. What don’t you enjoy about the work?

 

A. Writing up the mediations and making sure they are edited well and spelled correctly and in a nice format. As with anything, the more you do it, the more proficient [you become]. At this point, I have a pretty good template that I work from so I’m not reinventing the wheel each time. So I guess that would be my least favorite part–necessary though. Again, I’ll go back to saying the workbook has been very helpful with that.

 

Q. Any advice to graduates on getting started?

 

A. Jump in, take the risk. Susan is available to help people. Once you’ve done one you’ll feel more comfortable doing it. The longer you put it off the harder it is. Take the risk push through. I’ve found it very rewarding both professionally and financially.

 

Q. Any advice to future mediators?

 

A. Other than to take the risk and feel that there is support out there. Susan has been available to me if I needed to talk to her; she calls back almost immediately. Other than to give it a try.

 

Q. Any interesting mediation anecdotes you’d like to share?

 

A. I always end with the note that if there’s anything else we can do together you can come back, you can call me. People have sent made thank you notes. I really feel like it’s a helpful thing for clients to be able to end their relationship in a healthy way. I’ve seen too many clients end their marriages in nasty adversarial divorces that impact them so negatively.

 

Q. Are you willing to speak to potential students interested in the course?

 

A. Sure. I’m available. Yes certainly.