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What if there’s Someone with a Mental Health Condition in the Mediation?

February 17, 2017

Given the news of late, I have been thinking a lot about people with extreme behaviors. One term I have heard or read about lately is “narcissism.”

I am not a psychotherapist and I really only know what the internet tells me about narcissism, but here is something I found when I looked:

According to Psychology Today (see,, Narcissistic Personality Disorder is defined this way:

The hallmarks of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) are grandiosity, a lack of empathy for other people, and a need for admiration. People with this condition are frequently described as arrogant, self-centered, manipulative, and demanding. They may also concentrate on grandiose fantasies (e.g. their own success, beauty, brilliance) and may be convinced that they deserve special treatment…. [¶] … Individuals with NPD seek excessive admiration and attention in order to know that others think highly of them. Individuals with narcissistic personality disorder have difficulty tolerating criticism or defeat, and may be left feeling humiliated or empty when they experience an “injury” in the form of criticism or rejection.

So, what do we do if we figure out that someone, who might fit this description, is in a mediation with us?

William A. “Bill” Eddy, LCSW, Esq., affiliated with the High Conflict Institute (see, ) seems to have some suggestions.

Eddy refers generally to individuals like this as High Conflict People (HCPs). He adds that these HCPs, generally have these traits: “a preoccupation with blaming others; all-or-nothing solutions; unmanaged emotions; extreme behaviors. (See, Times of High Risk with High-Conflict People at )

In the same article he suggests this:

“[G]iving them negative feedback tends to increase their negative behavior (including intensely blaming the person who gave them the feedback) rather than leading to insight. For this reason, it’s important NOT to tell someone that you think he or she is a high-conflict person.” Id.

That’s all well and good, but what DO we do?

In another article of Eddy’s, this one entitled Talking to the “Right Brain” in a Conflict, (see,, published originally in ACResolution Magazine, Summer 2011), Eddy suggests that we “resist the urge to confront” the person.

(By the way, this is a really great article, thank you Bill Eddy. I keep a copy of it with me for reference and I recommend that every mediator read it.)

In the article, Eddy offers this: Use empathy, attention, and respect, to acknowledge the individual and then focus the High Conflict Person on logical problem solving, as in asking the HCP actually to make a proposal.

But what if it doesn’t work?

We mediators are not psychotherapists (most of us anyway), and ultimately, we must “do no harm,” as the saying goes.

If we unable to redirect the High Conflict Person to think logically and to focus on problem solving, I believe that we would need to adjourn/recess/end the mediation, especially if, as a consequence, we have determined that it would be unproductive or harmful to continue. (See, ).

There are no easy answers to the question posed in the title of this piece. The least we can do is to be attuned to the possibility that the issue could arise.

If it does, we should try to help in the manner suggested if possible, and in any event, we should act as best we can to preserve the integrity of the mediation process and the dignity of all of the participants in it.


David I. Karp is a full time independent mediator of real estate and business disputes in Southern California. His website is at .


From → Mediation

  1. There was an interesting article in last week’s New York Times about NOT labeling folks we have not thoroughly examined and thereby excusing their bad behavior. The article argued that it was insulting to the truly mentally ill, most of whom are not also evil or destructive. I’d use some caution here…

    • Good point. But how can we know, really, about the mental health of others? And then, what if we suspect that something is amiss?

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