What is Discernment Counseling for Couples?
Discernment Counseling is specialized, short-term counseling to help couples decide whether to end their relationship or seriously work on it. The focus is not on solving marital problems directly, but to see if there is potential that they could ever be solved. The typical goal of Discernment Counseling is to reach on one of several outcomes:
- to end the relationship, with better communication, clarity and process,
- to decide to make an all-out 6 month effort to rebuild it, or
- agree to stay in the same stuck place for now, but with a better clarity and self-understanding, and with the possibility of revisiting decision-making down the line.
Katherine Waddell, LMFT, a Co-Director of the Couples Center, trained directly under Dr. Bill Doherty of the Doherty Relationship Institute and is the only practitioner in Massachusetts who is a Certified Discernment Therapist. She provides supervision to all of our therapists who practice Discernment Counseling with their clients.
Unlike couples therapy which assumes that both people are willing to work on saving their marriage, Discernment Counseling helps partners decide whether it's appropriate to work on their marriage at all, or to keep moving towards divorce. Unlike individual counseling where the therapist only hears one person's side, the Discernment Counselor works to understand both partners viewpoints, no matter how differently they each see things.
Discernment is a specific protocol and may or may not be covered by insurance, though we offer sliding scale for couples suffering from economic hardship.
Please contact us for more information.
Who is discernment counseling for?
Discernment Counseling is for people who are considering divorce but are not completely sure if it's the right path for them. They often want to take one last look at themselves and their relationship before making a permanent decision with long-term consequences. It can also be appropriate for people who want to give their marriage another chance even though their spouse is moving towards divorce.
What does discernment counseling involve?
The discernment counselor helps individuals and couples decide whether to try to restore their marriage to health, move towards divorce, or take a time-out and decide later. The sessions are divided between conversation with the couple together and individual conversations with each spouse. The counselor respects the reasons for divorce while trying to open up the possibility of restoring the marriage to health. The counselor emphasizes the importance of each party seeing his or her own contributions to the problems and the possible solutions. This will be useful in future relationships even if this one ends. Discernment 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 time out from the discernment process and return later.
How many sessions are there?
Discernment counseling usually involves a maximum of five counseling sessions. The first session is usually one-and-a-half to two hours, and subsequent sessions are one-and-a-half hours. Fees for counseling will be discussed. Insurances are accepted when this is possible.
Discernment counseling is NOT suitable when...
... one spouse has made a final decision to divorce and wants counseling to encourage the other spouse accept that decision.
... there is a danger of domestic violence.
... there is an Order of Protection from the court.
... or when one spouse is coercing the other to participate.
Statement of Principles of Discernment Counseling
(Used with permission from the Doherty Relationship Institute)
What We Believe About Divorce
- Divorce is usually an attempt to solve a problem that people think can’t be solved in any other way.
- Some divorces are necessary in order to prevent further harm in a destructive relationship.
- Some divorces are ultimately unavoidable because one party decides on divorce despite the wishes of the other party.
- Some people behave destructively enough over a long time that they lose their claim on their spouse’s commitment.
- However, many of today’s divorces could be prevented if both parties took steps to work on their marriage before it was too late.
What We Believe About Marriage
- Healthy, life-long marriage has unique value for individuals, families and communities.
- Life-long commitment is especially difficult in today’s throwaway culture.
- Marital commitment brings obligations to work on a troubled marriage before giving up.
- Children have an important stake in the health and endurance of their parents’ marriage.
What We Believe About Healing
- Human beings have the capacity to move past anxiety, distrust, and hostility and relate to each other from our highest selves.
- Restoring a marriage must not come at the expense of one of the partners. Love and fairness must go hand in hand.
- The key is whether both spouses want to restore the marriage to health.
- When both spouses devote themselves fully and with proper help to restoring their marriage to health, they can usually make it.
Frequently Asked Questions about Discernment Counseling
1. How do you handle confidentiality issues from the individual conversations?
Though we do not share what clients say during individual conversations, we may selectively share our impressions and reactions to those conversations. For example, we would not say, “Your husband said he still loves you,” but we might say, “I am sensing love going both ways in your relationship, even if it’s hard to see right now.”
2. What’s the difference between Discernment Counseling and “Closure Counseling”?
Closure counseling is a way to help both parties accept the end of the marriage when one has made a final decision. Discernment Counseling is intended for couples where the final decision has yet to be made and both parties are willing to suspend that decision while they look carefully at the relationship and their options.
3. What do you consider a failure in Discernment Counseling?
Failure occurs when neither partner develops neither a more complex understanding of personal and relational dynamics, nor a willingness to work on aspects of oneself that interfere with relational functioning. Success and failure are not defined by whether the couple stays together or breaks up, although of course we celebrate healthy reconciliation when it occurs.
(Used with Permission of Dr. Bill Doherty)