This went to press on April 1st (it really did!) with a particularly noteworthy and generous preface by Gwynne Davies, lawyer and mediator in central London.
“Dedicated to Mediators Everywhere”
Lisa Parkinson Family Mediation 4th Edition
S.T. Coleridge described poetry as “the best words in the best order”. The same description can be applied to Lisa Parkinson’s “Family Mediation”. It’s the standard textbook for the vast majority of foundation courses, and where it isn’t, it still appears at the top of the reading list; the section with the asterisk marked “essential reading”.
It’s not hard to see why. This is a magnum opus: part textbook, part reference book, part manual that covers the past, present and future of mediation, its philosophy and its politics as well as the theory and practice. The research is meticulous, and the breadth of Lisa’s knowledge is awesome. It is a Leviathan written by the Doyenne of Family Mediation and is relevant to lawyers, judges, CAFCASS officers and policymakers as well as trainee mediators, practising mediators (both new and experienced) and Professional Practice Consultants.
I cut my teeth on the first edition published back in 1997. It spoke to me with clarity and compassion. It was my bible, my handbook and my co-worker. I knew its pages intimately and years later I dip into it on a regular basis to find reassurance and inspiration.
Lisa’s original format is repeated in this 4th edition. Each chapter is organised into manageable subsections that seamlessly mix research, theory and practice and turn the ethereal and abstruse into the tangible and accessible. As you would expect, the 4th edition has been updated to reflect changes in legislation, developments in the profession, and most importantly the progress that has been made in child inclusive mediation, which is dealt with comprehensively in a completely revised Chapter. The updated Appendices provide a plethora of information and resources that would be worth publishing in their own right!
There is a genius to Lisa’s writing that blurs the edges between report and rapport. There are, as you would expect, frequent references to current research and statistics, but this is not a dry book; it is peppered with lively examples, anecdotes and poems. Enjoy the story about the President of Ethiopia receiving the Nobel Peace Prize and the startling wisdom of 13-year-old Tara’s observation; “Families are for helping each other through life.” My absolute favourite is in Chapter 8 where James, age 7, is talking to the mediator about how he is trying to cope with his parents’ separation:
“Well, Gary says the thing to do is to tell your parents jokes, to stop them arguing. I tried that…I tried to tell my Mum and Dad a joke about a monkey, but they didn’t listen. They went on arguing. Anyway, I hadn’t finished making up the joke.”
This resonates so much because it encapsulates how I feel mediating most of the time; I’m trying to do a positive reframe but they’re talking over me….and anyway I wasn’t sure where I was going with it. More importantly it captures the power of the voice of the child, while exposing the inherent complexity involved in listening to that voice.
Lisa’s obvious love of mediation and mediators, which permeates the book, shouts from every page. There is also a kindness, respect and affection for those who are not mediators, but who choose to trust us and participate in the mediation process. This book is crammed full of the “total positive regard” that counsellors consider a prerequisite for a good working relationship and is one of the hallmarks of a consummate practitioner as well as a majestic academic
I mentioned that there were poems in the book. Two that stand out for me are “On Children” in Chapter 8, and “Rachel’s poem” in Chapter 7 (which was adopted by many of my colleagues who used it to great effect in the Separated Parents Information Programme). But the book itself has its own poetry. Lisa is a naturally gifted communicator. Many academic writers seem to labour under a misapprehension that there is a world shortage of full stops; Lisa knows when to end a sentence so that we can take a breath and absorb the information. As I said at the beginning of this foreword: the best words in the best order. A Haiku keeps coming into my head. No doubt, to all Haiku aficionados out there, it will rank, as does Glossop according to Jeeves, “very low down among the wines and spirits”, but I’m blaming Lisa for inspiring me:
Working to help Families
When I was a trainee, Lisa Parkinson’s book was THE text, the precious, the one book to bind us. It affirms the common humanity of clients and their families, as well as the mediators and other professionals helping them through the miserable journey of separation and trying to make it less miserable. It has already earned its place as the standard text for trainee mediators of the past, and I have no doubt that this edition will follow in the footsteps of its predecessors to become the mediation bible for future generations.