In traditional couples counseling, the therapeutic goal is to increase intimacy and deepen connection. When one or both partners are not genuinely committed to this goal, discernment counseling is appropriate. Discernment counseling is a specialized type of couples therapy used when one or both partners are conflicted about whether to continue their relationship. The goals of discernment counseling are to foster a deeper understanding of what has happened to the couple’s bond and of how each partner contributed to the problems. This helps the individuals gain greater clarity and confidence about the direction of the relationship. Discernment counseling results in three possible scenarios: the couple decides to continue the relationship as it is, the couple decides to separate/divorce, or the couple commits to six months of couples counseling to see if reconciliation is possible.
Discernment counseling is short-term (not lasting longer than 5 sessions) to help couples move towards decision-making. The process begins with a 2 hour session that helps the therapist to understand the couple’s background and history. The following sessions are usually 90 minutes during which the therapist meets with each individual separately, then brings the couple together to share takeaways and insights. At the end of each 90 minute session the therapist will ask if both partners will commit to a subsequent session, giving individual autonomy about continuing treatment.
The individual portions of the session help the therapist create a safe space for both partners to explore their thoughts and feelings. The therapist helps those who are considering ending the relationship to gain a better understanding of their current concerns and of their own contributions to the problem. The therapist helps those who want to save the relationship to better understand their partner’s complaints and how they can bring their best self to the current situation.
If you have mixed feelings about continuing your relationship and are interested in gaining clarity, contact a therapist with experience in discernment counseling.