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Discernment Counseling: Is This the Best Approach to Take?

Shannon M. Duffy, MFT, LCPC

When contemplating couples therapy, many potential clients view this as their last attempt to make the relationship work. It can feel like it, however, but it can also be a place to find the clarity needed to end the relationship on a collaborative basis. Many people ask themself, “Is this the best path to take over more traditional couples therapy? Do I have to have a therapist who specializes in this form of therapy to see the results desired? Is this only for married couples or can anyone in a relationship benefit from discernment counseling?” These are all valid questions while contemplating this form of counseling, which is why today, we will help answer these questions by looking at discernment counseling

What Is Discernment Counseling?

Discernment is used to describe work specifically centered around determining if partners want to stay in a relationship, break up, or end their partnership. This approach can be beneficial for those couples who are on the brink of divorce or breakup, who are feeling ambivalent about the divorce process overall. 

Accepting the ambivalence of what the couple would like to happen for their future can also lead to discernment counseling. Situations that may be involved deal with affairs/infidelity, being out of love with their partner, or feeling unsure if couples therapy is even wanted or desired from one of both partners. Divorce is not a failure ever or within discernment counseling; rather, the overall goal is in wanting to learn anything that can help change the relationship status.

What To Expect During Discernment Counseling

Here is a typical approach to discernment counseling, which is considered more short-term therapy with this specialized focus. The time frame ranges from one to five sessions, which can entail having sessions together as a couple in a longer duration up to two hours per session. In addition, separating the couple for individual sessions can provide a sense of safety to explore feelings with the intent to resume sessions as a couple for the final collaborative decision-making. It is helpful for the couple to have the same goals to find clarity and confidence in a direction for the marriage or relationship, based on a deeper understanding of what has happened in the relationship and each partner’s contributions noted fairly. 

With discernment counseling being short-term focused, there are typically three paths that are discussed: stay together as is, move towards divorce or end of a relationship, or decide to do full-on couples therapy for at least six months to see if the relationship can be put in a good place with a clear agenda for personal growth. If this last step is the direction taken, divorce or ending the relationship is off the table during couple’s therapy and a full effort from both partners is needed during those sessions. 

How to Choose a Discernment Therapist

Many couples, family, and marriage therapists do have training in discernment counseling, and you can seek out those who are certified as a discernment counselors for a therapist with more specialized expertise. The benefit of having the support from a discernment counselor is that if ending the relationship is the answer, they can provide resources towards how to address children, finances, splitting up of assets, etc. This process can create or elevate a lot of emotional distress and those difficult feelings at times can benefit from the support of the professional.

A relationship impasse can occur at any time under a range of circumstances, which are all appropriate for discernment counseling. This form of therapy is a helpful tool for those who are seeking clarity to make the best decision for themselves and their relationship. Even if you feel you have utilized all other options, discernment counseling can help give the closure needed and ensure everything has been addressed. What’s more, being more mindful and present during this shortened process can help the couple stay more aligned in being hopeful for their future — whether that is together or apart. Ideally, at the end of the day, it is key to feel more grounded in your decision-making process with the goal of making a change.

If you would like to learn more about discernment counseling, contact Symmetry Counseling to connect with a skilled therapist today.

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