Mediating with Families by Mieke Brandon and Linda Fisher 2ed: a Review

This review was first published in the ADR Bulletin in 2009

Family Dispute Resolution in Australia has evolved and been transformed by the Family Law Act 1975 and its subsequent amendments. Recently, over 2000 registered FDR (Family Dispute Resolution) practitioners have decided whether to upgrade their qualifications to post graduate equivalent or to remove FDR from their practice portfolio. To date, approximately 1200 have completed the registration requirements. To do so practitioners have necessarily been reflecting on all aspects of their practice. The publication of the second edition of ‘Mediating with Families’, written by Linda Fisher and Mieke Brandon, when for the first time in Australia FDRPs have been obliged to explicitly examine their knowledge and practice, is timely indeed. MwF is a book which provides renewed breadth and depth of insight and clinical practice for the FDR profession. Other professionals whose clients are affected by separation and family conflict will also find much to stimulate, challenge and inform them in ‘MwF’.

In the preface the authors liken this second edition to a home renovation of their first. The contents pages indicate just one aspect of what is in store. Readers have more to look forward to. Subtle accretion of mediator meta functions develop the ambience and are implicit throughout. Various reader-author conversations suggest themselves. Resources abound.

Talking the talk

The contents pages indicate an open plan style book structured to culminate in two constructs: the culture and the language of families. Following three initial scene-setting chapters, which analyze family dynamics, describe approaches to mediation, then emphasize the influence of the mediator, there are three chapters describing and exploring FDR.

The next two chapters extend the principles and philosophy of FDR beyond the concerns of separating couples to issues which can arise among extended family members. Having developed, applied and honed the knowledge, skills and aptitudes relevant to FDR, the authors refine and adapt them to these family circumstances.  Practitioners who have and/or would like to broaden the scope of their practice beyond FDR, will find Chapters 6 to 8 of MwF describe family situations in which family mediation theory and practice is effectively applied: inter family issues, adoption, parent-adolescent disputes. Those who question whether such transferability is possible or appropriate may find it salutary to recall that ‘the mediator manages the process; the parties manage the content’.

The first two of the final four chapters, Chapters 9 and 10, make overt the implicit messages of the first eight: namely the essential elements of and variations on, the process of mediation and the responsibilities of family mediators. As I read it, the breadth and depth of Chapters 1 – 8 assumes that the reader is beyond the apprenticeship stage of practice. I recommend newly qualified practitioners consider starting with Chapters 9 and 10 entitled ‘Practice Considerations’. Here they will learn sufficient of the scaffolding of mediation practice by way of endorsements (for example of co-mediation p. 232), explanations (for example of power p. 217) and exhortations (for example referring parties p.226) to inspire some of the momentum and confidence necessary to commence professional practice.

The final two chapters provide an analysis of the significance of language and culture. The crux of each is presented as being rigorous cultivation and demonstration of respect for mediation participants’ uniqueness. Reaching these chapters, which simultaneously provide the foundation and the apex of this second edition renovation, can be likened to the satisfaction of coming home. The preceding ten chapters of exposition and exploration of substance and meta themes through conversations with the authors reaches a natural resolution.

Walking the walk

“I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I do and I understand.” is reputedly a Chinese proverb, challenging all educators to deliver beyond ‘talking the talk’.   Throughout ‘M w F’ Fisher and Brandon offer the reader a variety of opportunities to consolidate their understanding of mediating with families through doing. Exercises and diagrams which transform the words of the text from information through understanding to reflective practice cater well for the reader-educator, whether educating oneself and/or others. For example, genograms pp. 57 – 59 and pp. 316 – 317 convey an appreciation of the complexity of families in the way that pictures paint a thousand words.

Case studies and examples complement the text, providing an opportunity for the reader to experiment with applying new insights. Each questions to consider segment, invites the reader to make the chapter their own by integrating the substance and the process into their own mediation schema.

Completing the text are twenty appendices, nineteen of which provide sufficient materials to set up an FDR practice or to produce much of the portfolio of ‘evidence’ required to comply with FDR registration criteria. The twentieth appendix needs to be read to be appreciated.

Talking and walking

As I read MwF, the conglomeration of the substantive content and the interactive opportunities provided by the resources evolved into heightened awareness of three particular mediator meta functions which having engaged me maintained my curiosity throughout. Other readers will no doubt find various different synergies to pursue.

Mediators facilitate participants’ well-being

The first meta function that surfaced together with its corollary is that the mediator can significantly influence the health of family relationships, and that family relationships are a sound predictor of personal well-being. Cummins[1] identified eight variables in the personal well-being index. ‘Relationships’ is one of them. Like the authors of ‘Mediating with Families’, Cummins conceptualises families in systems theory, commenting all homeostatic systems have a limited capacity to absorb challenge and when aversive experiences are both strong and sustained, homeostasis fails. If this occurs, people lose their normal positive view of themselves and become depressed. Qu and Weston[2] of AIFS concur:

Our sense of wellbeing is closely linked with how happy we are with our relationships with other people, especially those that are most important to us. Of these, relationships within families loom large, affecting all members, the family as a whole, and the community. If relationships in the family are supportive and enjoyable, then the challenges we face both within and outside the family can seem less daunting than otherwise. The souring of family relationships, on the other hand, can be a devastating experience in which our “refuge” can become a “minefield”.

Fisher and Brandon synthesize research regarding a variety of aspects of well-being in Chapter 4 which in analyzing the shift from a loss of a positive view of self through to well being “focuses on the development and breakdown of relationships, with particular emphasis on issues affecting couples who separate”. It outlines “how mediators can assist couples to find ways to manage their emotional journey and resolve their separation conflict through mediation.”

Mediators demonstrate respect for ‘help seekers’

The second strand to pique and sustain my interest was the authors’ respect for those who seek the help of the profession.  Careful choices of language including subheadings, for example, in Chapter 7, Challenges in the family (p. 144) set and maintain the respectful tone, which extends to conveying the importance of parties’ dignity in the frequent case studies.

In their study of ‘help seeking behaviour’ Lixia Qu and Ruth Weston, referring to FDR practitioners as “counsellors or similar professionals” found that

“counsellors or similar professionals” represented the most “popular” source for advice or information for parents who were separating, followed by lawyers/legal services, then general health professionals.

If ‘help seekers’ include mediators among those to whom they go first for information, it is all the more important that respect for the dignity of clientele and excellence of practice are values commonly held and explicitly practiced. In both what they say and how they say it, Fisher and Brandon continue to make a significant contribution to identifying these as fundamental to the role of the mediator and in enhancing practitioners’ skills. Paragraphs built around sentences such as on p. 170 “Family members usually wish to be respected, valued and wanted, and members of blended families are no different.” are prevalent.

Mediators display compassion for vulnerable participants

The third thread is developed early and remains prominent throughout. It is the importance of mediators displaying skilled compassion for the vulnerability of adult participants who, with their children, may be at their most vulnerable.

As Dorothy Scott[3] points out:

One of the major challenges in protecting children from abuse and neglect is to build the capacity of adult-focussed services… so that they can see, hear and respond to the needs of vulnerable children in the families they serve.… with the emphasis being on the transfer of principles rather than programs.

Mediation as described by Fisher and Brandon, builds adult capacity to respond to children’s needs. Techniques for compassionate interventions include

Sensitivity, Open-mindedness and non-judgmental attitude, Inclusiveness p. 100

and in sections such as understanding the issues p. 175. case studies exemplify these concepts.

As I read it, M w F provides the opportunity, through the breadth of its structure and the depth of its substance, for family mediators to reflect on the potential of the infinite combinations of their knowledge, skills and values to interact with the individuality of parties in ways which maximize the well being of vulnerable participants. The authors convey, and in return expect, compassion of family mediators and in doing so raise the bar well beyond the mechanics of mediation practice in such a way that they develop the professional together with the pragmatic aspects of family mediation.

These are only three among many of the mediator meta functions readers will discover in Mw F that will maintain their inquisitiveness and hold their attention as they reflect on their practice.


As well as the breadth of its structure and themes, the authors provide considerable depth of clinical substance. M with F invites the reader to form a relationship with the authors perhaps as mentees, perhaps as colleagues.

Mentor-mentee conversation

For those who would like to get to know each of the authors as mentors, I recommend ‘listening’ to the clear messages, particularly in chapters 1 – 3 and 9 and 11. Linda’s and Mieke’s experienced and thoughtful voices can be heard clearly as they identify and explore aspects of the family, family mediation and the self-as-the-mediator.

As I read I ‘listened’ to the tone of these chapters. Well before I reached page 274 on which there is a list adjectives that describe the tone of ‘mediatorspeak’, my list describing the tone of MwF included ‘compassionate’, ‘experienced’, ‘accepting’, ‘caring’, ‘interested’, ‘tentative’, ‘empathetic’, ‘sensitive’, ‘convincing’. These are among the qualities of the tone that contribute to the depth of this book.

Collegial conversation

These two veteran mediators write with confidence in a way that invites a conversation, ‘biblio-supervision’, with reader-practitioners. As would be expected, readers’ perceptions, understandings and hypotheses will differ from those of the authors’ providing the reader the opportunity to challenge, explore and clarify their perceptions and points of view, prompting reflection and growth. For example, I paused for thought when reading the section on intake and suitability for mediation (p. 198) “Two important elements of intake are to assess the safety of the parties should they come to mediation, and whether they have the necessary negotiation skills and motivation.” It occurred to me that I see it just a little differently and might have written “Two important elements of intake are to assess how to maximize the safety of the parties if they come to mediation, and how to design the process to maximize the likelihood of parties being able to be assertive with assistance.” These may seem small and insignificant changes to some. What is significant is that the degree of detail in MwF offers myriads of opportunities to become aware of and to develop insight into one’s family mediation practice and its underpinning rationale.

MwF in context

Some texts imply that theirs is the last word on the topic. Fisher and Brandon have written a text that understates its place in the world of mediating with families and is likely to be all the more accessible and therefore influential for it. As well as the scope and detail of the book, the Additional Resources at the end of each chapter convey to the reader a reminder that there is much more to consider and much more that has been considered. To have identified and included the Classics in these sections acknowledges and affirms the foundations on MwF and many contemporary texts are built. Footnotes provide another source for those wanting to excavate the archives.

Ideas for the 3rd edition

It is clear that this book is an asset to those who do or would mediate with families. Now follows the reviewer’s obligatory ‘white ant inspection’.

In the 3rd edition I will look forward to an even more consistent selection of language for mediators to emulate. Having set the language bar high, and while it would be a mistake to think of words only in their literal sense, the choice of language sometimes disappoints. For example, I prefer to think of family structures ‘changing’ rather than ‘breaking down’ as on p. 5 and p. 9. On  p. 20 I found it jarring to read ‘the mediator reality tested… for them’. I think of participants accomplishing the reality testing, assisted by the mediator.   On p. 27 I found ‘not completely neutral’ to be a red herring which could set a reader new to mediation back a decade. Continuing, for a moment, with other expressions which disturbed my flow, p. 13 could be read as implying that ‘good faith’ and ‘genuine effort’ are interchangeable. On page 156, I’d like to have read that a mediator’s role is to be evenhanded rather than that ‘the mediator is not on their side nor that of their child’. In a book in which generally the choice of language is inclusive, interest based, peer oriented, I found periodic misdemeanors all the more glaring.

Any cracks in the plaster regarding use of language are more than redeemed by the transformative title ‘Mediating with Families’. ‘with’ is the perfect preposition for mediation, accentuating as it does,  the philosophy of parties’ self determination and mediator’s dispassionate involvement. The same book, entitled inappropriately ‘Mediating for Families’, or exchanging the audacious ‘for’ for the insipid: ‘in’, ‘about’, ‘between’ or even ‘regarding’ could have been justifiably judged by its cover.

My other concern is that in this ‘renovation’ as the authors describe it [p. xvii] would have been all the stronger for a firm foundation and a house plan showing the relationship among the ‘rooms’. An opportunity exists here. Although sections often commence with ‘as mentioned previously’ each of the sections of each of the chapters is self contained. Just as mediation is not alone in being described as ‘a practice in search of a theory’, MwF is not alone among the mediation literature as ‘a book in search of a blueprint’.  Sound and explicit theory engenders and liberates practitioner creativity in a way that is experienced as congruent, providing security for participants. Lack of theory creates dependence on the ideas of others and eclecticism both of which can fragment participants’ experience. Mediation theory is not easy to come by. I look forward to a third edition of MwF which retains the excellence of the second edition and incorporates an explicit rationale, a readily available reference point, providing simultaneous stability and freedom to enable me to wonder, to develop hunches, to wrestle with the relationship among concepts, to hypothesise, to test hypotheses; to extend what I read beyond the examples presented, to enrich, challenge and make me confront my subliminal theorizing, otherwise known as assumption-making.

In the meanwhile, with MwF at their side, FDR practitioners and family mediators can continue to incorporate the wisdom, experience and generosity of Meike Brandon and Linda Fisher into their practice and learning. It is the families of Australasia who will benefit from their dedication, leadership and insights. If I were writing the blurb for Thomson Reuters I’d have submitted “M w F, written by two highly regarded, contemporary, versatile practitioners will be welcomed by the competent and diverse group of professional family mediators who, with this book in their library, can continue to aspire to delivering best practice in ways which support an progressively more informed 21st century mediation clientele.”


[1] 13 March 2008
Subjective wellbeing and families: Issues of measurement and data interpretation
Professor Robert A. Cummins, Professor of Psychology, Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Happiness Studies, Deakin University  accessed 11 April 2009

[2] Snapshots of family relationships

Australian Institute of Family Studies, May 2008.

[3]Dorothy Scott (2008) Think Child, Think Family, Think Community: Building the capacity of adult services to respond to the needs of vulnerable children; AIFS Seminar Series    DS is Director, Australian Centre for Child Protection  Accessed April 11, 2009


Mediating with Families by Linda Fisher & Mieke Brandon 3ed: a Review



Review wMwFritten in 2014

The family mediation profession is fortunate  that Linda Fisher and Mieke Brandon decided to write the third edition (2012) of Mediating with Families.  The first two editions (2002, 2008) were very well received in Australasia and beyond, and the third edition is following suit.  Family Dispute Resolution Practitioners, mediators, academics and trusted advisors all have much to gain from engaging with this expanded and updated edition.

Spanning as they do, ten years of significant change, the three editions have recorded some of the history of mediating with families in Australia. In the years since the first edition of Mediating with Families, the most significant of the changes for families has perhaps been the advent of compulsory family dispute resolution from July 1, 2007.  For mediators, the development of clear qualification pathways for both Family Dispute Resolution Practitioners and for mediators has been similarly significant.

During the ten year period of the growth of mediation theory and practice, the concept of family has also undergone significant social change. Perhaps each in their own way, both mediation and families have transformed in the way that a child, born in 2002 has developed over the same time.   As with the child, a synergistic mix of nature (evolution) and nurture (largely policies and the legal system) has brought family mediation into the second decade of the century.

Signature attributes

Mieke Brandon and Linda Fisher have ensured that this third edition of Mediating with Families carries its signature style and content while being thoroughly up-to-date.


Review_3The style that permeates the book is welcoming, generous, understated and highly accessible. The text is approachable in a way that invites certain reciprocity. Linda and Mieke offer their insights for the consideration of the reader, rather than as immutable truths. They have written a text that understates its place in the world of family mediation and is all the more accessible and therefore influential for it. Some texts imply that theirs is the first and the last word on the topic. This one speaks with a confident voice, welcoming other confident voices.

The authors’ accessible, conversational writing and is complemented by easy-to-navigate organisation. The reader can engage in the style of conversation that they choose: a collegial conversation, a mentor-mentee conversation, a knowledge gathering conversation. I find that I hear the text as I am reading it.


In this edition the authors are as generous as ever in sharing their collective wisdom and experience which go well beyond transmitting plain knowledge. Grounded in sound theory, the authors provide their insights in a way which is both engaging and motivating. This edition broadcasts the pivotal message of previous editions: at all times think about yourself as a mediator and the effect you and your interventions are likely to be having on participants. I read the message as ‘keep in mind that the mediator is there for the participants’. This message extends to two related insights: the importance of professionalism and of self-care foremost. Typical of the positive frame of this book is that these insights are delivered through a lens of affirmation of practitioners.


The content of the book is considerably updated to account, in particular, for the changes to Family Dispute Resolution in Australia, and for a broadening of the concept of ‘family’. New Zealand FDRPs will welcome Mediating with Families, following their recent introduction of Family Dispute Resolution.

Due to the welcoming tone and the accessible approach, just as with the first two editions, the reader can be thought of as accepting any one of multiple invitations from the authors. I will consider the two most likely: one could be to read with a family focus and the other to read with a mediation focus. Others include a cultural focus, a skills approach and a parenting focus. Each of these themes is anchored in particular chapters and developed throughout the book.

Families focus

In the big picture, for readers with families in front of mind, there is a variety of invitations including, for example, to appreciate families and their place in society and to consider the society that forms and is formed by families. There are more for the looking.  The reader whose primary focus is families and whose secondary focus is mediation, might start with Chapter 1 ‘Setting the context: the family’ then take that framework with them to Chapter 4, ‘Issues for separating couples’, Chapter 5, ‘Issues for couples: established and new relationships’ and Chapter 7, ‘Issues for parents and children’, in particular, the section entitled ‘The Family’s Sense of Self’ and Chapter 9 ‘Practice considerations’.

From the micro perspective, in one among many examples of family dynamics, Chapter 1, at 1.130, introduces ‘power and control’; chapters 4, 5, 6, 7 and 9 develop, analyse and exemplify the concepts that provide context for issues of power and control.

From a specialised perspective, Mediating with Families can be thought of as being oriented toward families whose degree of complexity is within approximately one standard deviation of the norm. The versatility of this book is such, however, that family complexity beyond that range is addressed in a number of ways. Every family is a complex family and some are more complex than others[i].  As Kaspiew et al (2014)[ii] have shown, complexity creates a need for holistic interdisciplinary approaches. Mediating with Families addresses complexity by taking a systems approach, that is, a holistic, interdisciplinary approach, summarised in figure 1.1 and in the two chapters on language and culture. The authors address many of the components of complexity including vulnerability, violence, safety, and abuse. Third, they identify a variety of family constellations including adoptive families, stepfamilies, families involved with surrogacy, single parent families, same-sex families and nuclear families. While the focus is as the title suggests, readers could choose to follow a pathway through Mediating with Families to add to their knowledge of families with complex needs, with respect to conflict and mediation.

Mediation focus

In the big picture, for readers focusing on mediation there is an invitation to consider mediation processes in all their permutations and another to develop and/or to review skills. To read as a mediator is to be invited to reflect both on mediation practice and on the self-as-a-mediator.

The reader who accepts the invitation to focus on the mediation process in the family context could start their pathway at Chapter 2 and follow on to Chapters 3, 6, 8, 9 and 10. Chapter 2 has been very usefully updated to consider four approaches to family mediation, a comment on diversity in approach, mediation frameworks, and philosophy, practice and process. I find the mediation frameworks especially helpful for reflecting on my own practice.

From a mediation practice micro skills perspective, one among many mediation skills that is developed throughout Mediating with Families is the use of agendas. Agendas and their vagaries are  considered in a variety of contexts across five of the chapters. Agendas can be tricky. Chapter 11 describes communication patterns to reach the phrasing of a robust agenda which in turn becomes the scaffolding for agreements.

From a specialised perspective, Chapter 6 includes mediation of wills and estates, Chapter 7, parent-adolescent mediation and Chapter 8, some aspects of elder mediation.

Mediation Participants

In 2008 when I reviewed second edition of Mediating with Families I was intrigued by what I read as the developing dialogue between the authors and the reader of the role of the mediator. developed throughout the book. This third edition deserves the same praise as the second, for this thread. On reading this edition I found myself also intrigued by the authors’ portrayal of the participants in mediation. For each main assertion of the authors, there is a practice application in the form of either a case study, followed by self-paced learning questions or a series of examples or a relevant Appendix. The authors are in touch with reality and ensure that the reader is too. Consistent throughout the case studies, the questions, the analysis and the examples, the empathy, compassion and respect of the authors for families in conflict, shines through.


Finding your way around

The reader who is wondering how to investigate their choice of theme, will be pleased to know that the authors have identified the starting point, a descriptive contents pages and from there, each step of the way can be mapped in the comprehensive index. Think of the topic, decide the approach, start with the contents pages then shift to the index to find the topics and more. The advantage of being able to take this approach is that the constructs are in their setting. Everything you read raises awareness of the issues and your self-awareness as a mediator or trusted advisor.

For many of the authors’ assertions, there is a practical application in the form of either a case study, followed by self-paced learning questions or a series of examples or a relevant Appendix. The authors are in touch with reality and ensure that the reader is too. Consistent throughout the case studies, the questions, the analysis and the examples, the empathy, compassion and respect of the authors for families in conflict, shines through.

As well as the scope and detail of the book, the Additional Resources at the end of each chapter convey to the reader a reminder that there is much more to consider and much more that has been considered. To have identified and included the Classics in these sections acknowledges and affirms the foundations on which Mediating with Families and many contemporary texts are built. Footnotes provide another source for those wanting to excavate the archives. The inclusion of Booklets in the resources section is particularly family friendly.


Characterising the approach to each of these applications of models and theory are themes of inclusivity, consensus, relationship orientation, cooperation and self-determination.


From my perspective the hub of this book is introduced in Chapter 3, ‘What mediators bring to practice’. That is, this book assumes that improved practice is dependent on greater self-awareness. In each topic, the movement from unconscious unknowing to conscious unknowing to conscious knowing follows the pathways of mediator and mediation as it develops the role of the mediator.


Characterising the approach throughout the book are principles of inclusivity, consensus, relationship orientation, cooperation and self-determination; themes that recognise and acknowledge participants.

One of the techniques that integrates the subject matter is the way in which the authors exemplify the principles of mediation both in what they say and what they do. The book is an avatar of mediation. The practice of mediation is an inclusive one; it is the role of the mediator to be inclusive; Mediating with Families is inclusive. One among many of the indicators of inclusivity is the breadth of the list of excerpts used throughout the book.

Another of the fundamental principles of mediation is its focus on party participation. Mediating with Families provides ample opportunity for the reader to participate well beyond consolidating the concepts under discussion to internalising them in the practice setting. As a point of comparison, legal negotiation and litigation are premised on professional participation.

A mediator is tentative regarding content (facts) and assertive regarding process; as is Mediating with Families.

In the same way that mediation involves a peer-like relationship among mediator and parties, each with their different fields of expertise, the tone of Mediating with Families is one in which authors and reader are peers in a partnership, each with their different fields of expertise. The authors convey their expertise in an informal way which affirms the reader as expert in themselves and in their application of the authors’ expertise to their practice.

The authors ask the reader to look at the family situation as unique and to adapt the practice of mediation to suit the family circumstances. This is another of the fundamental principles of mediation: that it is situational and individualised.

A book entitled Litigating with Families could be expected to exhibit the principles of exclusivity of content, professional participation, hierarchical relationships, emphasis on precedent.

By absorbing the content in the way that it has been presented, the reader gains knowledge of the family and family disputes, self-development as a mediator and experience of the distinctive approach of mediation.

The content is provided from the general to the specific; from theory to practice concluding with language and culture, which is the underpinnings of all that has been before.

Over Coffee

Review_4In writing this review I have conducted my own dialogue with the authors, unbeknown to them! The welcoming and open style invites discussion. One of the comments by Mieke and Linda that I look forward to discussing comes from Chapter 2, on the topic of ‘Diversity in Approach’ in which they comment

Many mediators, however, do not maintain such distinctions in their practice and prefer an eclectic approach. These mediators approach the diverse situations that come to family mediation using interventions from a range of approaches that seem to meet the parties’ needs.

I read this as an endorsement of an eclectic approach. I have concerns about an eclectic approach from an integrity and internal consistency point of view both in terms of professionalism and in terms of cohesion of experience from participants’ point of view… to be explored over coffee.


Mediating with Families comes highly recommended. Its subject matter could be summarised as being concerned with access to justice for families. Its approach is one that resonates with the approach described by Hayes and Higgins[iii]: it advocates, albeit gently, for collective awareness, common narratives and coordinated approaches to promoting resilience, in this case through mediation for decision-making and dispute resolution.

Linda Fisher and Mieke Brandon are to be congratulated again. It is the families of Australasia who will benefit from their dedication, leadership and insights.

[i] Apologies to George Orwell

[ii] Kaspiew, R., De Maio, J., Deblaquiere, J & Horsfall, B.  (2014) Families with complex needs: Meeting the challenges of separation AIFS

[iii] Hayes, A. & Higgins, D. (2014) Complex family issues: collective awareness, common narratives and coordinated approaches to promoting resilience AIFS