FDRIO Member Jared Norton On Managing the Many Hats that FDR Professionals Must Wear
By AJ Jakubowska
Jared, I appreciate this opportunity to pose some questions to you, so FDRIO members can find out more about you and your approach to FDR. In my preliminary research, I noted your emphasis on the importance of treating each individual, each dispute as unique. I also see you have an interest in process addiction, such as gaming and gambling. But talking about that first would mean getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s start with your background.
AJ: You have a Masters in Social Work from the University of Toronto, where you specialized in Child, Youth and Services. What initially drew you to this area of study?
Jared: I had always been interested in mental health and working with adolescents, even as far back as high school. I had volunteered at a mental health hospital in New Canaan, Connecticut, close to where I grew up, and through that became a peer counselor and athletic director of sorts for both their inpatient and outpatient teens. Through my time there I worked closely with a psychologist and psychiatric nurse who also allowed me to take on other responsibilities such as group work and I became increasingly interested in family systems theory and as a result family therapy. So down the road when I had the opportunity to specialize in that area it was an easy choice.
AJ: Your post-Masters training is extensive: you hold certificates in Alternative Dispute Resolution and Advanced Family Mediation. You have also undertaken specialized training in therapeutic interventions and addictions work. Tell us about your transition from the theory to Social Work to your decision to apply it in the very practical FDR field. When you decided to study Social Work, did you know from the start that you wanted to be “in the trenches”, so to speak, triaging family law conflict?
Jared: Applying social work in the arena of family law was probably the farthest from my mind when I was first in university many years ago. I always saw myself as being a front-line clinician providing therapeutic services, and first considered medical school as I wanted to be a Psychiatrist. When I did my Psychology degree as an undergrad, in my last year I had taken an ADR course that focused more on community and international disputes and I really enjoyed that. There was a small family component, I think a lecture, and at the time I just kind of parked it in the back of my mind. Years later after a bit of an attempt to have a career in the music industry, I decided to return to school. I studied ADR as I was not sure what I wanted to do graduate studies in but felt that the back ground would be a bonus in any event. I contemplated an MBA, or going into HR, but in the ADR program at York took the advanced family section which relit my interest in family work and adolescents. So, I went back and did a BSW then my MSW. After that I envisioned working in a hospital or agency on the front line which I did for a bit. I still wanted to become accredited as a family mediator which I later did and when I got the opportunity to join the court connected program with mediate393 I jumped at it. From that moment I left my agency job and started in private practice. That was six and a half years or so ago and have been in the trenches of high conflict separation and divorce ever since.
AJ: You are currently in private practice but beyond that, you serve on the clinical panel with the Office of the Children’s Lawyer, and you provide court connected family mediation with Mediate393. You speak, teach, and train, both in Canada and internationally, on the topics of family and individual mental health, mediation and parent coordination. Tell us the secret to balancing it all and why educating others is important to you.
Jared: I don’t know that I have a secret. I still find it challenging managing so many different things and taking on so many different roles. It is rewarding and challenging which makes it interesting, and wearing many hats reduces the burnout which is a plus. It can feel fragmented at times, and remembering the different roles and how different they are can be tough especially when you are a mediator in the morning, doing an assessment in the afternoon, and have therapy clients at night. On top of that and in between you may be a PC on a quick call. I guess the real secret is having a few really good colleagues whom I can debrief with. I owe my career and sanity to a couple of people in particular. As for the training, I really enjoy that. I have been blessed in being given some great opportunities. I find it relaxing to teach at times and it always gets me to think about things again and rethink them. So it is learning for me, which is great. I haven’t really thought about it being important for me to educate others, because I generally don’t see myself as an educator, and certainly not an expert. I think I see it more as sharing ideas and having conversations. Many times in the room there are people who know far more than me, and have far more practice wisdom. So I am just the facilitator, and they are often the educators.
AJ: I see a theme in your practice and professional interests in general: that is children and youth. You have worked at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health, Frontenac Youth Services, and the Distress Centre of Toronto. You have also spent some time completing assessments, including those under Section 34 of YCJA for youth in conflict with the law, and for The Arson Prevention Program for Children (TAPP-C). Your area of specialization in your MSW was likely a clue to your future focus on children and youth. Can you expand on that, please?
Jared: As mentioned my interest goes way back. Adolescence for me was an amazing time. It wasn’t for a lot of others. It is such a foundational period of development for us in our lives and helping young people have better times of it really felt like a worthwhile thing to do. Some of the most meaningful moments in my life have been hearing from young people and them sharing their stories and struggles. The shared story of many kids who struggle is that they are missing the connection and trust in their relationships with adults. Their environments are not the best and they are surrounded by risk factors. In the end children have to cope and often do by developing some behaviors or relationships that work against them. So hopefully as a professional can help contribute to a shift in their story going forward.
AJ: You treat each adult, each child, each dispute as unique. What do you believe are the strengths of this approach and how does it impact on the prospect and quality of conflict resolution?
Jared: I was trained in a very critical social work and anti-oppressive framework. So, I tend to approach things with as much of a lens of uniqueness as my own biases will allow. I also value the idea of insider knowledge and would never be comfortable with the idea that theory can fully grasp or explain the complexities of an individuals lived reality. I think that has tremendous value in ADR work as we deal with not just individual perspectives, but the complex intersection between perspectives, emotions, family history, individual mental health, etc., all of which takes what is often presented as a black and white world of family law and makes it a real grey area. So, every issue, every conflict is unique depending on the actors. As a professional I have to understand who is at the table and what is driving the conflict. If we are to really resolve disputes, we have to understand who the person believes they are, what makes them unique, what is uniquely important to them. Not who we think they are, or what category they fit in, and what their needs are based on those assumptions.
AJ: Having learned more about you as an FDR professional, I now have a chance to ask you about process addiction. What is it?
Jared: Process addictions are behavioral addictions. Things like gambling, video gaming, shopping, sex, eating, etc. Video game addiction has long been an interest of mine.
AJ: Do you believe FDR professionals should learn more about it and if so, why?
Jared: I think mental health and addiction is something that everyone could benefit from learning more about, but certainly FDR and ADR professionals. Not just in an effort to reduce stigma, but also because we all experience these issues to some degree. So beyond being able to have better conversations and understand our clients better, the self-reflexivity in practice piece is important.
AJ: If I gave you 2 hours of free time, and let’s assume in my hypothetical that you have no internet access, how would you spend it?
Jared: If I am not spending that time with my wife I would likely be just sitting alone thinking or playing drums. I am a very introverted person and recharge with alone time and music. Often I have to remind myself to take that space which can be hard to do in this field given the demands that are placed on us all, regardless of our role and professional backgrounds.
Jared, once again, thank you for giving us an opportunity to learn more about you. I was a student of yours in my mediation training so I can attest in person to your genuine commitment to the field of FDR and to teaching.