When I lived in Poland in 1989, I took a trip to Prague — now a major tourist destination, then a hauntingly desolate (yet beautiful) place. I got chicken pox there, which the doctor mistranslated as smallpox. And then we figured it out and we laughed and laughed because I wasn’t going to take the dirt nap.
Speaking of mistranslations. Polish and Czech and other Slavic languages are pretty similar, so while exploring Prague, I figured I’d get around by speaking my middling Polish and just Czeching it up a bit. For the most part it worked. Except for this: the Polish word for “to look for” is szukać. This is an important word when you’re a tourist looking for stuff. But the Czech version — šukat — means the f word (the one that autocorrects to duck.)
This is known as a linguistic faux amis (French for “false friend”!) — two words in different languages that sound that same and really ought to mean the same thing, but don’t. My favorite one is the Spanish word embarazada which means pregnant instead of embarrassed, which I reckon has resulted in a lot of embarrassing pregnant pauses.
So I basically went around Prague saying things like “Excuse me sir, I am f***ing the Cathedral.” and “How might I f*** your Town Hall?” and “I’m f**ing your famous Clock Tower”. You get the picture. I guess I had that chicken pox coming to me.
Just like languages from similar groups overlap, mediation and other fields have a lot in common….and some things that can trip us up. Some mediation trainees express discomfort going toward the emotional heat and focusing on emotions, because “it feels like therapy.” Meanwhile, therapeutic professionals who take our trainings sometimes think that our techniques are old hat — and indeed, much of what we do (validating feelings, asking open-ended questions, inquiring about parties’ ideal vision, etc.) are therapists’ stock in trade. So, we talk about some of the differences between therapeutic interventions and mediation, to avoid mediation-therapy faux amis (and faux pas). Mediation can certainly be therapeutic, but it’s not therapy, and here area few reasons why:
–Mediators don’t diagnose. In the same way that we don’t judge, we don’t our label our clients with this or that mental or cognitive issue. This can be really tricky for counseling professionals who do that for a living.
— Mediation is a largely forward looking process. Sure, we gather information on what happened in the past, but our real focus is on where do we go from here. Of course, therapists look at the past, present and future. But mediators don’t get into the analyzing the childhood origins of clients’ behavior and Oedipal Complexes and such.
— Mediators, in our model, don’t give advice. A lot of therapists do. We also don’t prescribe drugs, though we usually have some hard candy setting around.
— Mediation is typically more time-bound than therapy. Some mediations may have multiple sessions, but often a few hours and a couple of meetings does the trick. Therapy can go on for months, years, or be a life-long journey. On the other hand, an individual mediation session may last several hours or a whole day or more, vs. the standard 50-minutes therapy sesh.
Okay, our time is up.
(Oh, my drawing above is supposed to be Sigmund Freud, and my own mnemonic reminder to not therapize while mediating. I can’t quite put my finger on what the cigar means.)