What is Discernment Counseling and How Can it Help?
Considering Divorce or Separation? Try Discernment Counseling First
Discernment counseling is short-term and does not focus on solving marital or relationship problems.
Traditional couple or relationship counseling assumes that both people are willing to work on the relationship. However, sometimes one partner wants to work on the relationship (the “leaning in” partner) and the other does not (the “leaning out” partner). In those situations, traditional couples therapy will not be beneficial.
In discernment counseling, a counselor works to understand both partners, even if they see things very differently.
Who can benefit from this kind of counseling?
Discernment counseling is for people who are considering filing for divorce or separating but aren’t sure if it’s the right path for them. They want to take one more look at their relationship before making a permanent decision with long-term consequences or they want to avoid a painful breakup.
If you want to give your marriage another chance even though your spouse is moving towards divorce, you might benefit from discernment counseling. If you are interested in counseling but your spouse is not interested at this time, we can still help.
What happens in a session?
In this type of work, the counselor helps individuals and couples decide whether to try to restore their marriage to health, move towards ending the relationship, or take a timeout and decide later.
The sessions are divided between conversations with the couple together and individual conversations with each spouse. The counselor respects the wishes of the individual who has reasons for divorce while trying to support that partner who wants to be open to the possibility of restoring the marriage to health.
Another important aspect of discernment counseling is the emphasis on responsibility and potential solutions. An experienced relationship counselor emphasizes the importance of each party seeing his or her own contributions to the problems and solutions. The skills gained in discernment counseling are useful in future relationships, even if this one ends. This type of counseling is considered successful when people have clarity and confidence in their decision.
When a decision emerges, the counselor helps the parties either to find professionals who can help them have a constructive divorce or to formulate a reconciliation work plan to create a healthy, successful marriage. In some cases, couples decide to take a timeout from the discernment process and return later.
How many sessions are there?
A maximum of five to seven counseling sessions is recommended. The first session is usually 2 hours, and subsequent sessions are 1.5 to 2 hours. Some of the sessions are with each individual, some of them are help with both partners. The last session is always a joint session.
Many couples engage in 4-6 months of couples counseling after the discernment counseling process is over. Other couples, however, want help to divorce well, or to design a good separation agreement.
Discernment counseling is NOT suitable when:
- There is a danger of domestic violence,
- When there is an Order of Protection from the court
- When one spouse is coercing the other to participate
The above ideas are based on the work of William Doherty and his “Couples on the Brink” project. You can read more about discernment counseling here.
About Couples Counseling Associates and Discernment
Therapists at Couples Counseling Associates are never going to encourage couples to separate or divorce. However, some couples find it difficult or impossible to repair their relationship. When one or both members of the couple decides that it is in their best interest to end the relationship, we can help to sort things out with civility and dignity, not anger and revenge.
Consider discernment counseling if you are on the brink to have the best possible outcome in a difficult situation.
More Resources for You and Your Partner
In our efforts to bring value to your life, or if you are not in the Chicago area, Couples Counseling Associates has developed a series of lessons that could have a major impact on effectively improving your relationship. We encourage you to dive into the series and discover how these resources can benefit you and your partner.
Remember, it’s the positive habits we develop that guarantee us success in all areas of our lives. Discover the seven healthy habits that improve relationships or get in touch with us to learn more about Couples Counseling Associates.
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