Psychology and Mediation: Helping Victims Move Beyond Their Loss

In many mediations, the Plaintiff has experienced a personal injury, loss of a loved one or job loss and they see it as a grievous and devastating loss, which the lawsuit may hold the promise of “fixing” or restoring. Within the span of a few hours, if we are successful in the mediation, we are asking them to accept some amount of money (and perhaps a few non-monetary concessions) and move on. 

Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, “Option B” talks about her own devastating loss when her husband suddenly died on a treadmill while vacationing in Cancun, leaving her with two young children and unimaginable sadness and bewilderment on how to cope with the loss. One of the tools she relied upon came from the well known Psychologist, Martin Seligman, PhD, who cautioned those suffering great loss to “Avoid the three P’s”. They are: Personalization–the belief that we are ultimately at fault for what happened, Pervasiveness: the belief that this one event will color everything at every moment in our everyday life, and Permanence: the belief that the despair that the party is feeling will last throughout their life and never lighten or become less intense.

It occurs to me that if, in the appropriate case, we mediators can offer up this guidance, taken from the perspective of living through profound grief, and point out or “normalize” the tendency to fall back on “the Three P’s”, perhaps the victims in the lawsuits we mediate can also gain some relief from their despair.