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Online Degrees in Conflict Resolution and Mediation

Conflict resolution and mediation offers an important alternative to courtroom litigation. From community mediation to international diplomacy, mediators help disputants to find common ground and come to an amicable agreement.

The emerging discipline of conflict resolution and mediation seeks to neutralize disputes so that the parties in disagreement can come to an agreement or achieve reconciliation. Mediators function as neutral advocates for peaceful resolution, emphasizing common ground over points of conflict. This approach to conflict has applications to legal practice, public policy and international diplomacy.

Some of the major areas of conflict resolution and mediation practice include:

  • Contract and tort law
  • Corporate and labor negotiations
  • Public policy decision-making
  • Environmental issues
  • International humanitarian and relief work
  • Community disputes
  • Family and divorce law

As an academic discipline, conflict resolution and mediation sits at the intersection of psychology, public policy, human resources management and law.

Conflict resolution and mediation programs, part of the online liberal-arts degrees, offer an interdisciplinary curriculum touching on a range of social science fields relevant to the practice of mediation. Courses range from conflict resolution theory, negotiation and mediation techniques to related topics such as communication, international relations, public policy, sociology, organizational behavior and more.

Most programs incorporate an internship or practicum, allowing students to apply their knowledge in the practice of mediation. For example, a student might work alongside a mediator in a family court or small claims court. In addition, professional mediation programs generally meet the training requirements for specific state or court jurisdictions.

Both campus-based and online degrees in conflict resolution and mediation are available at every level, from associate to doctoral degrees. Look for programs in conflict resolution, mediation, peace studies or alternative dispute resolution. The most common conflict resolution and mediation degrees are:

  • Bachelor of Science: The four-year B.S. in conflict resolution is the most common degree in the field, offering a solid general education to support the interdisciplinary social sciences curriculum.
  • Master of Science: The academic master's in conflict resolution offers the opportunity for advanced coursework and a thesis project focusing on an issue in mediation theory or practice.
  • Master of Business Administration: Some MBA programs offer a concentration in conflict or dispute resolution. This program follows a professional business curriculum with some elective courses in mediation and negotiation.

In addition, there are a growing number of associate and doctoral degree programs in the field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, many mediators transfer into the field with a law degree or a master's degree in a related field such as public policy.

Conflict resolution and mediation is a discipline firmly grounded in working with people. So how do online courses in conflict resolution work? An online professor in the field, in a paper for the professional website mediate.com, described one approach to teaching online, which included optional conference calls for students to discuss course topics and issues in real-time, group projects that encouraged collaboration among students, and recorded lectures that could be discussed in online forums. Other online courses have used videotape or online simulations to recreate role-playing experience among virtual participants.

Careers in Conflict Resolution and Mediation

Conflict resolution and mediation is driving job growth in the judicial sector. While judge positions are declining, arbitrators, mediators and conciliators can expect 14 percent job growth in the 2008-2018 period, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. Graduates with degrees in conflict resolution and mediation can go on to careers as mediators, negotiators and dispute resolution trainers. Some work in contexts related to mediation, such as human resources or labor negotiation, public policy administration or international diplomacy.

Conflict resolution at a glance:

  • Salaries: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, mediators and arbitrators earned an average salary of $66,460 in 2010. The federal government was the highest-paying employer, with an average wage of $120,670.
  • Key locations: California, New York and Florida have the highest employment levels of mediators in the nation.
  • Common industries: Professional, scientific and technical services; government; business, labor and political organizations; legal services

Doctorate-level conflict resolution and mediation degree programs focus on the theoretical foundations and practical relevance of resolving disputes in professional and interpersonal settings. Graduates of these programs may find rewarding work as researchers, consultants, theoreticians, educators and conflict resolution specialists.

What Does a Doctoral Degree Program in Conflict Resolution Entail?

There are two main types of programs. The Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in conflict resolution is typically designed for individuals who plan to research and educate others in a higher education environment. The Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) may be preferable for individuals aiming to practice as a counselor or consultant.

Students generally choose an area of specialization such as cross-cultural conflict resolution, family mediation or psychopathology, among others. Doctoral programs incorporate a variety of courses and training, including assessment tools and diagnostic evaluations:

  • International peace and conflict
  • Research methods, including statistics
  • Mediation theories
  • Legal and ethical issues in conflict management

Though less common, some higher learning institutes offer online doctoral degree programs in conflict resolution and mediation. Online doctorates may be good solutions for students who don't live near a campus program as well as working students who need a more flexible schedule. Distance education programs often require a few periods of on-site study called residencies. These residencies provide students with practical experience and interaction with fellow peers as well as experts in the field. Some programs may also require a practicum at a local facility.

Admissions and Program Requirements

Admission to a Psy.D. or Ph.D. program in conflict resolution may require a master's degree in a related field. Check with your school for specific admission requirements, including prerequisite courses and test scores.

Doctoral-level graduate programs in conflict resolution and mediation typically necessitate three main elements: coursework, qualifying exams and a dissertation. The length of time required to complete the doctorate varies from three to six years, depending largely on the duration of dissertation research. In a Ph.D. program, the dissertation is typically based on original research of a theoretical topic in the field. A Psy.D. dissertation may focus on an applied problem in the field of conflict resolution but is still based on empirical research.

If you're ready to begin researching potential doctorate programs in conflict resolution, start your search below and collect more information from prospective schools.

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