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What Is Discernment Counseling

I have to admit, I wasn’t familiar with discernment counseling until earlier this year. In short, discernment counseling helps couples determine whether their marriage can be saved, whether both parties want it saved, and whether divorce is necessary. I think of it as a form of couples’ therapy that helps people transition into either traditional marital counseling or divorce. Due to the nature of discernment counseling, I believe it likely leads to less-contested divorces, although I can hardly support that.

Since I’m hardly an expert, I asked Theresa Herrring, LMFT of Centered Connections to guest post and explain what discernment counseling is. Her post is below:

Discernment Counseling: Not 100% Sure You Want a Divorce? Read This.

You’re considering divorce but you still have some doubts. Perhaps your partner has already lawyered up or maybe there’s been an affair, a big blow up, or a slow simmer of resentment building over the years. And you’re on this website because you don’t want to live like this anymore. But you’re not 100% sure that you want to throw in the towel. If this describes you, you’re in the right place.

Often the two suggestions made at times like these are 1) hire an attorney or 2) try couples therapy. While these aren’t bad suggestions, there’s something better. There’s something that can help you get clarity and confidence about your decision. That something is discernment counseling.

Discernment Counseling for Couples when Divorce is on the Table

Discernment counseling is a research-backed treatment designed specifically to help couples who are on the brink of divorce. It is a brief therapeutic approach (1 to 5 sessions) with the aim of helping couples gain clarity, confidence, and a greater understanding of what happened in the marriage and each person’s role in it. So basically it’s made for people just like you and your spouse.

Is Discernment Counseling Like Couples Therapy?

Discernment counseling is completely different than couples therapy. For one thing, discernment counseling doesn’t aim to improve the relationship. Instead, the goal is to figure out if the relationship is worth saving.

Another major difference is that, while you attend sessions together, most of the work is done one-on-one with the discernment counselor. During your time with the discernment counselor, you will individually explore your options and your contributions to the marital problems. At the end of the discernment counseling process, you will have made a decision about the future of your relationship.

What Can We Expect to Get Out of Discernment Counseling?

At the end of discernment counseling, you will have decided on one of three paths. Path one is maintaining the status quo (if this path makes you cringe, you’re not alone!). Path two is divorce. And path three is taking divorce off the table for 6 months and committing to couples therapy during that time frame.

Couples who have gone through discernment counseling share that they have more clarity about their relationship and the future of their marriage. They report feeling confident in the decision they made about which path to pursue. In addition, they leave discernment counseling having a greater understanding about what happened in the marriage, each person’s contributions, and what they need to change to move forward (separately or together).

Who Would Benefit from Discernment Counseling

Discernment counseling is for couples who have some level of ambivalence about divorcing. It is specifically designed for couples who have different goals (one person is leaning towards divorce while the other would prefer to save it). It is a wonderful option for these types of couples and they are able to gain clarity, confidence, and a better understanding about their relationship and the future of it.

It is not recommended for couples where one or both partners are 100% committed to divorcing. It also won’t work if there is ongoing violence and/or coercion in the relationship. And, finally, it isn’t the right choice for couples who both want to work it out. Couples who both want to improve their relationship would benefit from couples therapy.

Theresa Herring, LMFT is a couples therapist and discernment counselor in Evanston, IL. You can learn more about discernment counseling and her practice at www.centeredconnections.com  

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